Volume 93, Issue 23

Thursday, October 7, 1999


She's all that and the advertisers know why

Teenage genre growing out of phase

She's all that and the advertisers know why

By Clare Elias
Gazette Staff

In a marketing world run by supply and demand, complex economic graphs and grids can be broken down to a simpler concept of the chicken and the egg. Who creates the demand and who keeps it going?

In recent years, a great focus of the market has been placed on teenage girls. Magazines geared towards the female age group of 12-17, like Cosmogirl! and Teen People are constantly cropping up, the number of television shows aimed at teens are increasing and youth celebrity status and power is growing.

The intensity of the media is driven by the awareness that kids today have a greater disposable income, said Shari Graydon, media analyst and former president of Media Watch, a research organization in West Vancouver. "The media [are] realizing that young girls have the ability to wield more influence in purchasing power," she said.

For teenage spending to be decreased, Graydon argued the onus is on parents to subvert the media messages. "Twenty years ago, parents exerted resistance to the media, but now we have pop culture parents who are susceptible to the media."

Graydon also said dominant images in the media, including an overwhelming emphasis on conformity and physical ideals, are not positive ones for the targeted audience of teenage girls.

Nancy Rones, senior editor of the Teen magazine commented on the cyclical nature of marketing and advertisements. "There is tons of interest in teens right now and they do make money – so for now, since supermodels are no longer big, we're gearing the campaigns to them," Rones explained.

The editorial content of Teen, Rones said, is aimed at 14 and 15 year olds, however, there will always be the younger age groups aspiring to be older who will also jump in on this market. While the magazine tackles the serious issues facing teenagers today, Rones said this is reflective of a difference in the maturity of these youths. "Fifteen year olds are much different than the 15 year olds 10 years ago. They are not as shielded. There's more freedom and there's more advertising."

Rones also said the media is not entirely to blame for the increase of poor messages. There is a mix of factors infiltrating the information sent to teenagers, such as parental advice and other forms of entertainment.

From the advertiser's end, most gage their results by the cash register, said Peter W. Medwig, advertising director at Cosmogirl!. Advertisers, he explained, rely on focus groups to determine the buyer's demands. "We're looking to reflect a healthy, confident, self assured image," Medwig said, adding Cosmogirl!'s biggest client presently is Johnson and Johnson.

Heather Blair, associate professor of elementary education at the university of Alberta, conducted a study of 12 and 13 year olds girls and found a huge circulation of teen magazines among the girls.

"There has been an escalation in society of teenage girls being targeted by advertisements. The messages in these [advertisements] lead to love and popularity shown as commodities," Blair explained.

The girls, she continued, believe they understand the images being sent and try to interpret them critically, yet they are caught between their perception and the ideal. "They have a mixed view of themselves."

Blair pointed to the element of education and the need to open up gender dialogue in schools. "A lot of these mixed messages has to do with boys – [boys] hold the stereotypes and girls respond [to them] as they buy into it."

"Girls are voracious readers of magazines and the media is definitely influencing them," said Kelly Burns, teacher at Trafalgar Castle School in Whitby. "There is pressure from the media to sexualize themselves and it's aimed at 12 and 13 year olds."

Before moving to this all girl school, Burns taught at a public school in Kingston where she noticed the timidness of girls in answering math and science questions. "There's also less pressure for them to wear makeup in the same-sex environment."

Burns also commented on the necessity for the media, education and politics to break down gender barriers. "Right now, society sees 'woman' as body and 'woman' as stupid."

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Copyright The Gazette 1999