Teenage Girl still has time for magazines, 'whateva' she says

With today’s teenage girls appearing to be getting older quicker, their magazines are having to grow up too, says Annabel Brog

Once upon a time Teenage Girl wore teenhood like a badge of honour:
she was misunderstood, rebellious and proud. She watched programmes
made just for her, bought clothes designed just for her, read magazines
written just for her…

Boy, has she changed! Today, Dawson’s Creek – with its cast of
entirely teenaged characters – wouldn’t even get a “whateva”. Today’s
young teenager watches the same TV dramas as her mum (Lost and
Desperate Housewives are current favourites), she shops at the same
places as her mum (Top Shop and New Look top the list), and she reads
the celebrity weekly mags her mum buys. She loves Orlando Bloom, but
equally popular is 43-yearold Johnny Depp, who mum fancies, too. And
just like her mum, she’d rather be Carrie Bradshaw than Rachel Stevens.

Unsurprisingly,
the teenage magazine market has suffered. Two years ago, total
circulation in the teen sector was over 2.2 million copies per month.

Today, it is approximately 1.7 million copies per month (down 23 per cent).

Two years ago there were 15 teen titles, but now that J17, 19 and Dare have folded, there are only 12.

But
there is a place and a future for teen mags. Today’s teenager might be
a new species – I call this media-savvy, style-obsessed, sophisticate
the trainee adult – but she still has the same insecurities she’s
always had – boys, spots, fitting in etc.

So while her magazine
(or shampoo, or lipstick, or anything else aimed at her) has to flatter
her aspirations, it still needs to answer her emotional needs.

Or,
to put it concisely, it needs to appeal to both her head (where she’s a
cool Gwen/Paris wannabe character)n and her heart (think insecure
14-yearold meets Vicky Pollard). So when I arrived at Sugar as editor,
the first thing on the cards was a redesign, inspired heavily by
Harpers Bazaar and US Glamour, because a magazine aimed at a 14 or
15-year-old has to look like a magazine Keira Knightley will read.

Teen mags also need to fight back against the new demands on our readers’

time,
attention and money. She’s now spending her cash on mobile topup cards
and ringtones, getting information off the internet, and watching
whatever reality TV show is airing. But if reality TV is so popular
because it offers readers a showcase for their talents, fame and
excitement, magazines can, and must, do it too.

At Sugar, the
answer is the Sugar VIP Club. If I was describing it to my publisher,
I’d say it was a loyalty-driving, database-building, interactive
initiative (and it’s doing all those things gratifyingly well). But for
the Sugar reader, it’s a cool, exciting and completely unique way to
showcase her talents, and embark on a two-way relationship with the mag.

Bearing
in mind that “fame” is the number one career choice for today’s teenage
girl, if she can’t actually be Beyonce, a job in media comes a very
close (and much cooler) second. So the Sugar VIP Club invites readers
to sign up to contribute to Sugar as writers, stylists, reviewers,
models etc.

Every issue of Sugar has VIPs working alongside the
editorial team – they model, they write, they style, they review…
they drive my poor team crazy!

They also (because teenagers love
a freebie) benefit from special offers and privileges. The club
currently has just over 20,000 members and I get around 6,000 emails
from them a month!

Here’s one…

Dear
Annie, I think that the Sugar VIP Club is a ledge [legend] idea for
gals like me who want to get involved. It’s a good chance for us to get
our voices heard above the stereotypical “slutty troublemaking chavs”
that newspapers have branded us.

If
you gave me the chance to write a feature for Sugar I could get all
girls onto something that everyone agrees on. It would also look great
on my CV because I really want to be a journalist, and writing for
Sugar would be an amazing start. I hope you get the chance to read this.

Tami Roper, age 13

Finally, a teen magazine has to create talking points. Because, if
classroom gossip revolves entirely around The X-Factor, they’re not
telling each other to buy magazines. So, because we know that teenage
girls will always be obsessed with boys, Sugar created the SugarLadMag
– a funny, humorous visit to the world of Lad with its own design
template, cover palette and 17- year-old Green Day-alike boy editor –
to explain the myth.

It’s a tough market at the moment. Covermounts, once cheap
looking eyeshadows, now need to be quality gifts often branded with
recognisable labels – Barry M, Pineapple, Vans and Wheels &
DollBaby have all covermounted in the teen market this year.

But
there will always be a market for teenage magazines, because teenage
girls need help to feel good about themselves, and there aren’t that
many places they can go to do it.

And the wonderful thing about
teenage mags is that they can make a difference to readers’ lives if
you empower readers with the right features.

Sugar’s highly
publicised antiintimidation campaign Stand Up, Speak Out was so popular
with readers because they need it. A feature we ran (inspired heavily
by the Dove ad campaign)n headlined ‘We are beautiful’ and featuring a
redhead and an albino, a size 16 girl and a size eight, a girl of 6ft
and a girl of 4ft 11, inspired over 300 grateful e-mails and letters.

Basically,
there’s an emotional need in the teenage girl that can only be answered
by her magazine. While teenage girls need so much building up, they
will still need magazines to do it.

We just need to make those magazines look fabulous, flatter their aspirations and act like a TV show. No problem!

Annabel Brog is the editor of Sugar

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