Consumer Magazine Report: Research – Getting Personal

Publishers go beyond the numbers to tell advertisers who is buying the magazine
As advertisers demand more in-depth research on magazine readers, publishers are going to extreme lengths to get the most intimate details about their audiences–with at least one title moving right into readers’ homes, poring over their Visa bills and even snipping labels out of their clothes.
“People have been very forthcoming about allowing us to come into their homes and look into their cabinets,” John Keane, director of marketing and strategic planning for Condƒ Nast Publications’ Gourmet, said of the “New Gourmets Study,” a new research initiative with Young & Rubicam’s Brand Futures Group aimed at better defining the food-and-entertaining title’s hard-core followers. “They’re not at all resistant to us coming into their homes. These are subscribers who are passionate about the magazine, and they want to share their feelings about it,” says Keane.
Advertisers seeking ever more targeted segments of readers have clamored for such personalized research. “The industry has to come to grips with the reality that more eyeballs may not be cost-efficient if they’re the wrong eyeballs,” said Steve Greenberger, senior vp/print director at Grey MediaCom. “More and more, advertisers and advertising agencies are spending more time identifying the lifestyle of the consumer to get a better handle on who they are, what they like to do, where they like to go, what they like to be surrounded by.”
Esquire magazine recently made the decision to “stop spending tons of money giving media planners umbrellas with the Esquire logo and to start putting every penny into research,” says publisher Valerie Salembier.
“It became clear to us a couple of years ago that every time there was a new entry in the men’s field, the magazines were duking it out for younger readers, aged 18 to 24,” she says. “While we certainly have some of those, that is not the core of this magazine.” Proprietary studies by such firms as Roper and Booz-Allen led to a partnership with MMR and the more comprehensive Luxury Initiative, which defines Esquire readers by their upscale tastes.
And Time, through an initiative the newsweekly and the research firm Yankelovich Partners calls “cluster marketing,” reorganized its advertising and marketing research efforts to focus on three distinct sets of readers and the advertisers wanting to reach them: families (many of them with young children, and a highly desirable group for advertisers), business professionals (heavy users of technology, and therefore a prime target of tech clients), and the mature audience (those who have read Time for decades).
One would be hard-pressed, however, to find a magazine whose research is as up close and personal with readers as Gourmet, which is invading the homes of 30 prescreened subscribers in five major markets, querying them about everything from where they took their last vacation to which kind of cold cream they prefer. The research, whose results will be presented to advertisers beginning in May, will consider a diverse sample of consumers–men and women, married and single, aged anywhere from 25 to 44, earning $75,000 to six figures a year. Markets being studied are New York City (including the wealthy suburbs of Fairfield County, Conn.), Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston, and Dallas. Research subjects get paid $200 for their trouble.
The “New Gourmets” the study refers to are the young, affluent readers who have discovered the nearly 60-year-old title in recent years, readers “who are knowledgeable about different trends in food, who go to the hottest restaurants, travel extensively, know fine wines and entertain at home quite a bit,” Keane says. Besides answering probing questionnaires and allowing researchers to dig through their drawers and cupboards, the subjects are given disposable cameras to record those household effects most important to them–say, a favorite piece of furniture or a family heirloom. Researchers are charged with gathering personal data such as pages from planning calendars, labels from packaged goods and clothing and used airline tickets.
“What we hear from our clients is that we need to paint a picture of our reader to distinguish our reader from readers of other magazines,” says Jane Grenier, Gourmet creative services director. “So many research studies are just bar charts: ‘Sixty-seven percent of Gourmet readers do this or that.’ This is much more a get-’em-in-the-guts sort of presentation, where clients will be leaning in to see the detail of these people’s lives.” Keane admits admits the “New Gourmets” project is “a little bit unusual, but notes, “Everybody has the same circ numbers and MRI numbers. [We’re looking] beyond the numbers.”
Last year, Gourmet brought in 176 new accounts in categories both endemic to such magazines (Robert Mondavi, Four Seasons Hotels) and less typical of the genre (Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, Qualcomm). New advertisers so far this year include Saab, Volkswagen, Christian Dior and Florida Natural Growers. Travel remains its biggest category, accounting for 300 pages last year. Mirroring the industry at large, dot.coms have become a burgeoning source of revenue, with such names as Barnes&, Datek Online and coming aboard.
Keane says the latest research project is not aimed at drumming up business in any particular category. “But will it give us opportunities to go in and talk to some of these people? Absolutely,” he says.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to set itself apart from the growing men’s magazine pack, Esquire has focused its research efforts on luxury goods, those who make them and those who use them.
As part of its so-called “Luxury Initiative,” developed by director of marketing and strategic planning Jason Lundy, the Hearst Magazines title enlisted the syndicated research service Monroe Mendelsohn Research to determine luxury purchasing patterns and attitudes about luxury goods and services among Esquire’s affluent male readership. MMR found that 90 percent of survey respondents agreed luxury goods were no longer only for the wealthy, for example, and 85 percent felt buying luxury items was part of the American dream. Seventy-six percent of Esquire readers surveyed said they owned designer clothing, 74 percent used high-end electronics, and 71 percent drove luxury autos.
As part of the initiative, the magazine last fall produced the first edition of a semiannual newsletter, Affluence Revisited, highlighting trends and personalities in luxury merchandising and targeted to upscale advertisers and would-be ones. (The inaugural issue featured interviews with representatives of Acura, Cartier, and Neiman Marcus, among other luxury goods makers and retailers who are also Esquire clients.) The magazine also commissioned Dr. Peter Stearns, dean of the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at Carnegie Mellon University, to pen a treatise on the evolution of American luxury over the last century, “The Laps of Luxury: The Origins of Current Luxury Patterns,” which was sent to clients.
The purpose of these efforts: setting the magazine’s readers apart from devotees of such titles as GQ, Details, Men’s Health–and most especially, the wildly successful beer-and-babes bible Maxim–and defining the Esquire man as most likely to indulge in upmarket cars, clothing, timepieces, liquors, and fragrances. “As the face of the luxury customer has changed and diversified, so too have the magazines that serve these discriminating readers,” Esquire’s Salembier wrote in a letter to advertisers.
The effort could be paying off. Esquire’s new luxury advertisers include Louis Vuitton, Versace, Lexus, ABC Carpet & Home, and Hermes and Gucci watches. Salembier said the March issue of Esquire is up 46 ad pages over last year.
While Esquire sets out to define its audience as like-minded conspicuous consumers, Time magazine aims to spotlight the differences of its millions of readers.
Cluster marketing follows programs like “Time Top Zips,” which promised advertisers access to high-income readers by concentrating on the most affluent postal codes.
“The fact is that a magazine as broad as we are editorially and as large as we are from a circulation standpoint by definition attracts people for a variety of reasons,” says Time magazine president Bruce Hallett.
“We needed to reflect the differences of our readers, not continue to stress the similarities,” he says. Hallett credits cluster marketing with boosting the magazine’s overall revenues and attracting new business in such categories as technology and pharmaceuticals, whose advertising appeals are “aimed at specific audiences. Broad audiences don’t work for them.” New accounts include Kemper Insurance,, Priceline, and Dow Jones & Co.
On the edit side, managing editor Walter Isaacson created Time editions aimed at the three clusters. Called “Time Select,” these tailored editions carry eight to 12 pages of additional editorial not found in newsstand copies or standard subscriber editions. The editions are largely responsible for driving the magazine’s edit pages from 2,999 in 1996 to 4,562 last year, according to Time’s spokeswoman Diana Pearson.
Time attributes the magazine’s record revenues and profits in the past two years to the clustering strategy–even though just five years ago, internal projections had the magazine losing money by 1999. “If we know anything about marketing at the end of the 20th century, it’s that it’s all about segmented marketing,” Hallett says. “No successful consumer brand can avoid it.”