Attacking the teen market -- by design

March 26, 1994|By Jean Marbella | Jean Marbella,Sun Staff Writer

Are you cool enough to know that a vacation with Flea is something desirable rather than annoying? Can you cope with seeing, say, Al Bundy on an "in" list and Bruce Springsteen on the "out"? Are you slightly obsessed with Winona Ryder, getting backstage and, of course, every last sighting of any supermodel?

Then Mouth2Mouth speaks to you. You're teensomething, Generation Y, under 20 (or at least trying to be) the target audience of this frenetic entertainment-oriented magazine that joined the jumble at the newsstands this month. It's the one with Shaquille O'Neal and Cindy Crawford on the same cover.

What sets Mouth2Mouth -- can we call you M2M? -- apart from other teen-focused magazines is that it wants to be picked up by both boys and girls. Which flies in the face of conventional magazine-publishing wisdom that has girls interested in dating, make-up and fashion, and boys in sports and naked women.

"I think it's the right time for something like this. I don't think it could have been possible before MTV, before the computer age, before all the changes in the American family," says Angela Janklow Harrington, M2M founder and editor. "We all watch MTV. There are barely any single-sex schools any more. It's made us all into one giant gender."

Ms. Harrington, 29, was a student at Princeton when she was discovered by Vanity Fair and its then editor, Tina Brown, now editing the New Yorker. She was 21 when she joined Vanity Fair and became its youngest columnist ever in 1986.

"I never fit in there," says Ms. Harrington, who is the daughter of super- agent Mort Janklow. "I always covered the youngest end of the spectrum -- young directors, restaurateurs."

She left Vanity Fair after five years, worked in movie production for a while, then decided to get back into magazines. She shopped around her idea for a visually dynamic, gender-crossing magazine for 15- to 19-year-olds for three years before convincing Time Inc. Ventures, a subsidiary of Time Inc. which also publishes Vibe and Martha Stewart Living. Time printed 250,000 debut issues.

The magazine, which costs $2.50, is decidedly eye-catching, wildly colorful and graphics-jumbling, reminiscent of 'zines, only slicker, or MTV in freeze-frame. For the now standard bathing suit spread, for example, the magazine poses its bikini-clad models to look like they're actually in the video games that form the backdrop for the feature, "Virtual Beach."

"It needs to be visually compelling," Ms. Harrington says, "because these readers' visual sense is keener than any other generation."

"This is the trend for the MTV generation," says Samir Husni, a journalism professor at the University of Mississippi who specializes in magazines. "They're interested in design for design's sake. If they're not attracted in the first 2 1/2 seconds, then forget about it. Anything that can attract them to the printed word, I'm for. Once they're captivated, there's hope."

He's less optimistic, though, that M2M can attract both girls and boys. Girls, he says, already read Seventeen, YM, Teen and Sassy, while their male counterparts are a little less easier to find among magazine readership.

"It is so hard to reach young men with magazines. They just have a different agenda," he says, noting the large gap between when they might be interested in, say, Boy's Life and when they're ready for Details or their own copy -- as opposed to one pilfered from dad -- of Playboy. If they're reading magazines at all, it's probably a specific sports magazine such as one devoted to surfing or mountain biking.

Still, he says, if anyone can pull together both readerships, it's probably Time. The current issue does have an appealing mix of celeb gossip (Winona Ryder and Naomi Campbell frequently surface), movie and music stuff (a Bono interview, a vacation with Red Hot Chili Peppers) and impressive big-name contributors (David Letterman provides a Top Ten list, Tim Burton comes up with an appropriately gruesome locker-decoration poster).

There's also a mix of attitude from cheeky (advice on how to sneak backstage at any concert and fake book reports) to serious (stories on why so many teens are being sent to psychiatric institutes and an Amer-asian child reuniting with his father).

M2M's timing is on the money, market researchers say, noting that the number of teen-agers is growing as baby boomers' babies now are moving into adolescence. There are about 28 million 12- to 19-year-olds today, the magazine's research has found.

And they have money -- spending an estimated $89 billion a year -- to spend on those advertising favorites, clothes, electronics, movies, music and personal care products, the magazine says.

Which is why, Mr. Husni predicts, if M2M is successful, it will spawn a host of imitators.

"Any time you have a new magazine by a major company, you have people watching," he says. "We'll see copy cats."

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