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Promo Partner Personals: Not your parents’ Nat Geo!

Kids advertisers, listen up: If you're looking for a new print mag to help you get the word out about your company's latest products or initiatives, be sure to check out National Geographic Kids. This fast-growing U.S. glossy has increased its circulation base from 700,000 to over a million since relaunching last October with a new name, a hipper look, a more in-touch editorial bent and an open-door policy to advertising.
September 1, 2003

Kids advertisers, listen up: If you’re looking for a new print mag to help you get the word out about your company’s latest products or initiatives, be sure to check out National Geographic Kids. This fast-growing U.S. glossy has increased its circulation base from 700,000 to over a million since relaunching last October with a new name, a hipper look, a more in-touch editorial bent and an open-door policy to advertising.

After 26 years in the game, National Geographic World’s well-intentioned, edu-centric content tradition was a bit out of touch with modern kid culture. (Indeed, when editor-in-chief Melina Bellows says a typical old-school feature might have consisted of ‘six pages on polio with black-and-white pictures of the iron lung,’ she’s only half joking.) Afraid that the mag would lose more ground to other tween pastimes like the Internet, cable TV and the 250 other kids mags competing for their attention, the management team decided that a reinvention was in order.

First off, veteran redesign savant Roger Black (whose makeover portfolio includes the L.A. Times and the National Enquirer) was brought in to give the publication a more photo-driven look characterized by action pics and big, full-bleed art treatments.

‘Then we started using pop culture as a learning tool,’ explains Bellows. For example, a recent issue used the cast of SpongeBob SquarePants to debunk some common misconceptions about ocean life. (FYI, starfish like Patrick really can grow back limbs.)

Kid interaction has also become a major editorial focus. On the one-year anniversary of 9/11, for example, the editorial staff gave disposable cameras to a fourth-grade New York class that was returning to school for the first time. They laid the photos out with the kids’ personal stories in two different versions and had the class vote on which one would appear in the mag. On a more regular basis, a new Talk Back feature encourages kids to send in their made-up thought-bubble captions for really old Nat Geo stock photos of animals, and each issue devotes space to art and joke contributions from readers. The result is a huge increase in mail, with Bellows estimating the current letter count at 4,000 a month.

To get the mag out to more readers, the team did a newsstand distribution test offering issues for a quarter. Movement was swift enough that this year, every issue is distributed at retail, and sell-though is hovering at around 50% (between 10,000 and 20,000 copies). Changing the name of the magazine to more clearly communicate its target demo helped clear up a problematic stocking conundrum and was probably instrumental in the initial circ base spike. ‘In book stores, they used to stock us with the adult travel magazines,’ says Bellows.

As far as business model goes, NGK made the decision to abandon its sponsorship strategy (which had no doubt been hampered by the fact that there wasn’t a dedicated sponsorship sales position on the masthead) and start courting advertisers. Four-color full pages go for a rate-card cost of US$54,000, and Bellows says: ‘We’re averaging about 10 ad pages an issue, which is pretty good considering we’re first-timers.’ The most recent July/August 2003 issue featured ads from Crayola, Post Honeycomb, M&M/Mars, Lisa Frank, Kellogg’s Froot Loops, Cartoon Network and Colonial Williamsburg, an ambitious pioneer village looking to grow its family vacation business.

Outside-of-the-box advertising is also starting to gain ground, with Fox Box polybagging a promo DVD with every issue starting this fall and Disney buying a round of Kim Possible ‘collector cards’ that will feature images and stats of the series’ characters. (These cards usually feature pics and stats of different animals each month.)

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