Disney Mag Caught 'Tween' A Kids Market And A Hard Place

Disney Adventures publisher Kathy Gordon doesn't mince words when talking about challenges facing the handful of "tween" magazines battling for market supremacy. "It's an incredibly tough place to be," she says plainly. "There's only about five ad categories we can get. Beyond that, it really drops off."

Indeed, certain categories - pharma, luxury goods - obviously have no place in a publication targeting children between the ages of six and 12. Other advertisers, like video game companies, tend to spend most of their dollars in Maxim and FHM before parceling out the scraps to younger-leaning titles. This leaves the tween mags - and there aren't many of them, perhaps owing to this precarious market position - to fight over a narrow range of confections, toys and packaged goods companies.

Such is the predicament faced by Gordon's 13-year-old publication, which has struggled somewhat during 2003. On one hand, parent company Disney Publishing recently sent out a press release trumpeting that the mag's November issue will be its second-best ever in terms of ad revenue and that it overdelivered on its rate base (by 11%) in the first half of 2003. On the other, the most recent Publishers Information Bureau data indicate steep drops in ad pages (from 183.5 to 140.5, a 23% decline) and ad revenue (down 11%, from $9.9 million to $8.8 million) in the first nine months of 2003 against 2002 levels. By comparison, fellow tween-focused titles like Nickelodeon (up in pages and revenue) and SI For Kids (down slightly in pages, up in revenue) haven't been pinched quite as much.



Gordon acknowledges the category-wide malaise, adding that the forecast for the months ahead isn't especially sunny. "It's been a very tough year in the kids' ad arena and next year's going to be tough as well," she says. "There are so few kid advertisers. If you lose one big one, you've got a real problem on your hands." As for the plight of her own title, to her credit Gordon doesn't attempt to slap a smiley face on what's obviously been a trying period. "A packaged goods company told me 'we're not doing any kids' print this year.' On some level you realize that you're not the only one who's hearing things like that, but it's still pretty hard to swallow."

None of this is to suggest that Disney Adventures is on the endangered species list. Boasting a circulation of 1.2 million, the magazine has done very well at newsstand, owing at least in part to favorable checkout placement at chains like Safeway, Albertson's and Kroger's. "We're generating revenue from newsstand and circulation. That's a good story to be out and about with," Gordon enthuses.

She can also point to the increasing financial impact of the title's young readers. While they're not exactly in the market for ski chalets, tweens boast legitimate financial muscle - "billions of dollars," Gordon chirps - in their influence over purchases by their parents. Marketers have taken note: DaimlerChrysler was the sole sponsor of a special Lion King-themed issue timed to coincide with the movie's DVD release. "You don't think of automotive as [a category] in a magazine for kids," Gordon explains. "Detroit approached us. They know that tweens are going to the dealership with their parents, picking the color of the car, checking to see if it will be big enough to take them and their friends to soccer games. We're on their radar." She adds that it could just be a matter of coming up with the elusive Big Idea that convinces automakers to make the leap: "I think it would have to be interactive in some way. It wouldn't just be the straight brand message that Chrysler would drop into Vanity Fair or Family Fun."

Advertisers picked up by Disney Adventures during 2003 include Hostess, Nintendo and ConAgra, while mainstays like Kellogg's and Kraft continued their support. The mag has also become the preferred destination for publishers of children's books (Scholastic, HarperCollins, Penguin), even though Gordon admits "they don't have a lot of money to spend."

For the year ahead, Gordon has set her sights on toy and game marketers, in particular companies like Mattel who used to advertise in the magazine. "Anyone who's covered Toy Fair knows how badly that business has suffered," she explains. "Outside of Saturday morning broadcast, there aren't a lot of places for [toy and game manufacturers] to go." Gordon also hopes to parlay the magazine's one-off DaimlerChrysler hit into a regular schedule.

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