Magazines for kids have arisen to further legitimize those 14 and under as a viable consumer group worthy of pursuit, even by supermarkets.
A generation or even 10 years ago, reaching kids was direct and simple. Target the Saturday morning TV programs, offer a premium on cereal boxes and reach the parents who were kids' controlling influence. Today, things are a little different. Cereal boxes remain a compelling vehicle, but also found next to them in the cereal aisle is a shipper or sidekick of magazines for kids.
A growing number of magazines directed at kids such as SI for Kids and Time for Kids, from Time-Warner; Disney Adventures; and Nickelodeon's own magazine have emerged on the scene to buck the conventional wisdom that kids don't read. While television is still the primary kids' medium, it is not the same.
"It's been diffused between cable and broadcast," said Joel Ehrlioch, senior vice president of promotion and advertising for Warner Bros. Consumer Products and for DC Comics, New York.
"The number of kids watching TV is down 10% over the last 10 years, but the amount of programming specifically for them is going way up," said David Siegel, owner of Small Talk, a Cincinnati-based agency that specializes in marketing to kids.
Starting with the launch of SI for Kids in 1989, continuing with Disney Adventures' debut in 1990 and that of Nickelodeon's book in 1992, one by one these magazines have captured kids' attention, time and spending. According to a spokeswoman for Disney Adventures, Americans ages 6 through 11 have more than $17 billion of their own money to spend and influence parental spending of another $155 billion.
"No one was making these good looking and attractive, and widely distributed, magazines before," says Lynn Lehmkul, vice president and group publisher for Disney Publishing, New York, and one of the pioneering executives in kids' magazines. After going literally decades without much new in the magazine field for them, "kids were very hungry for these kinds of magazines," she believes.
Circulation of Disney Adventures is at the 1 million mark. One big reason is its 98% penetration of the nation's supermarkets, which account for 20% if its circulation, said the Disney spokeswomen. Adventures appears on racks with TV Guide and other popular publications from Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., she commented.
Several retailers told SN the new kids' titles have been somewhat slow to catch on at their stores.
"People's Teen magazine version just hit the street and hasn't caught on yet. Nickelodeon's magazine is the one that has done the best for us so far." said Gary Schloss, vice president of general merchandise for Carr Gottstein Foods, Anchorage, Alaska. Carr Gottstein displays the titles on its regular magazine rack, and for the past six months with candy and gum at a the checkout lane.
However, Schloss added, "The jury is still out on kids' magazines. They aren't a major factor for us yet. But they could develop into a new segment to pursue."
John Stahl, director of general merchandise and health and beauty care at Genuardi's Family Markets, Norristown, Pa., is more enthusiastic about the segment. "They're doing pretty well and a little better than we had anticipated."
The chain plans to cross merchandise the titles in the cereal aisle within the next few months. It will display them in a sleeve that fits onto the shelf taking the place of a cereal box and on a small fixture that attaches to the front of the cereal gondola shelf.
"Displaying products that appeal to kids in areas where they go is something we've done with games and PC magazines. We've had them over by the video area where games are sold, and the movement has accelerated because kids aren't used to going to a mainstream magazine area," said Stahl.
Feeding Adventures' success, Lehmkul adds, have been several truths about children that marketers alike are only now revisiting. One is that kids give print messages higher credibility than TV messages.
"They tend to be more discriminating than they've ever been, and they're increasingly aware of the power of special effects: that, in fact, they can make things look like they actually aren't. So they've become more skeptical."
They like the fact that they can "save something" out of a magazine and show it to Mom and Dad or friends, Lehmkuhl said. And they appreciate that, unlike a 30-second TV spot, they can absorb a message in a magazine at their own pace.
"Most of these new titles are truly for the purpose of entertaining, not academic or tied to any curriculum," Lehmkuhl said. "No one has to read these titles, so they'd better be pretty on-target in terms of appealing to kids, or they won't buy them."
At least one high-profile new kids' title, however, is taking a different approach, and some marketers happily are going along: Time for Kids, launched in the fall of 1995, is a series of classroom publications aimed at second through sixth graders. It is not distributed at retail.
The regular book doesn't accept advertising, but sponsors are lining up for special issues. For example, Bandai, distributor of Power Rangers toys, is the primary sponsor of a special issue about space next month. Bandai will get a two-page spread on space trivia that will carry its Power Rangers in Space logo and its web site address.
"Bandai gets a chance to show parents and teachers that they're interested in developing kids' minds," said Leanna Landsmann, president of Time for Kids and founder of a New York-based firm that consults with companies in efforts to support schools. Next special: an April edition about savings, sponsored by Merrill Lynch. So the kids' pie, as it were, keeps getting bigger, making room for more and more messages and media alike.
"The way we've come to understand that kids use these [magazines] is that they don't just use them as a form of advertisement, but as a catalog," said Gene Del Vecchio, senior partner of Ogilvy & Mather's Los Angeles office.
"They keep them; they go back and refer to them; they collect them; they share them. It becomes far more to them and their lives than we had thought it would."