Magazines carry clout with young readers

Determining what kind of cover will make a great newsstand seller for a celebrity magazine can be equal parts art and science. Generally, in choosing our covers for Us Weekly , we look to choose entertainment subjects that everyone in our young audience is talking about. Whether its Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, or the girls on the The Hills, we try to get in the heads of our 30-year-old female reader to understand what celebrity lives they want to discuss with their friends on Saturday night. Until the 2008 election campaign, politics was considered “cover death,” a subject avoided rather than gravitated toward, at the celebrity weekly newsstand.

Although President-elect Obama’s coverage in the major newspapers and news weeklies was important to his success, it was his presence in publications that speak to the under 30 set — such as Us Weekly and Rolling Stone magazines — that helped establish him as the favored candidate among young voters across the nation. This unique demographic of readers is undoubtedly concerned with the economy, war in Iraq and social issues, but they also demand to know what’s on a candidate’s playlist, where he shops, and what’s her favorite TV show. It was a tactic the Obama campaign used successfully to help broaden his appeal and grow a grass roots base that helped provide his margin of victory on election day.

Appealing to a younger electorate is not a new tactic for presidential candidates: In 1992, Bill Clinton made a surprise appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show, where he played the saxophone wearing wraparound shades and a phosphorescent blue and yellow tie. In a moment that may have defined his public persona, Clinton came off as cool and relaxed to young viewers.

And, in the 2000 and 2004 elections, candidates appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, The Late Show with David Letterman and The Tonight Show with Jay Leno to reach a younger constituency, many of whom actually got their day’s news from these comedy programs.

As the 2008 election neared, celebrity weeklies became the next “it” media property that attracted the candidates as a way to reach an increasingly mobile young electorate. Young people relied on Us Weekly and its sister magazine, Rolling Stone, to show which politician had the humor, wit and cool-factor to snag their vote.

Shortly after Obama was named the Democratic nominee, he spoke to Rolling Stone about what’s on his iPod and the state of pop culture today. Obama’s multiple interviews with Rolling Stone over the course of the election served as a direct line of communication to young voters.

Though the information in these interviews may be trivial to some, to young people, it says everything about who the candidate is “as a person.” When Michelle Obama says she shops at J. Crew, her message is aimed squarely at the smart, successful 30-year old female Us Weekly readers, who not only want to know “What can you do for our country?” but also, “Are you one of Us?”

Gary Armstrong is the CMO of Wenner Media. Reach him at [email protected].

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