The task of targeting older folks in a digital age
The Boomer generation is not quick to adopt new technologies
November 21, 2013
When you think of the latest technology, you don’t tend to think of people over 50 years old. But nearly a third own tablets or e-readers, and almost two thirds are on a social networking site. Use of smartphones among Baby Boomers is growing faster than for any other demographic. Older folks don’t adopt to new technologies early, yet they’re very open to incorporating them into their lives once they’ve become established. That’s pushed AARP The Magazine, a lifestyle publication for the over-50 crowd, and AARP Bulletin, a news title, to step up their digital production over the past year. Now in the works is a tablet edition. This comes at a time when many print titles are struggling. While AARP has bucked the downward trend in ad pages this year–it’s up 3.5 percent through third quarter–it is facing an increased demand for more digital products. Like many magazines, it has begun to sell digital and print ads packaged together. Shelagh Daly Miller, vice president and group publisher for AARP media sales, and Robert Love, editor in chief of AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin, talk to Media Life about how AARP’s publications have adopted to the digital age, what readers expect from its digital products, and whether magazine industry ad pages will ever rebound.
What are the biggest challenges facing consumer magazines in the digital age?
Love: One of the biggest challenges facing consumer magazines in the digital age is remaining a relevant medium in today’s increasingly mobile society. Real-time, interactivity and personalization is converging with content and enhancing consumers’ experiences and altering their expectations.
How much concern/interest do you hear from advertisers about digital opportunities?
Miller: All of our advertisers are interested in digital. The more we have to offer, the better the conversation. Advertisers are looking for a digital experience that offers high performance. Over the past four years we have doubled our digital advertising revenue.
Do you sell digital and print advertising together? Or do you have some advertisers who appear in one but not the other?
Miller: When appropriate, yes, we sell print and digital together, we also sell both alone, or on their own. We offer advertisers a 360-degree approach to buying media–it all depends on what they’re looking for and who they’re trying to reach.
We work with them to develop a custom plan to best deliver results, whether it’s a print-only buy, or across various channels. Advertising is still often purchased separately, therefore we have to be able to sell that way in addition to selling integrated as well.
Your target audience is adopting to tablets and smartphones at a high rate over the past few years. How much of your total circulation comes from tablet/smartphone editions?
Miller: AARP’s publication’s (AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin) iPad apps have been developed and will be launching in 2014. AARP has had an app for some time, but we’re in the process of launching our apps for the publications.
When did you first begin selling an iPad/tablet edition? What sort of editorial and advertising challenges have you encountered?
Love: Creating editorial for the iPad has been a dream, for our editors and designers. To play with interactivity, to conceive of different ways to connect with our readers is nothing but pure delight.
How does the greater focus on digital change the way you plan things editorially?
Love: We simply plan for our stories in three dimensions. It doesn’t affect what we assign, but how we assign it.
Who is your target audience and how has it changed over the past decade?
Love: Our target audience is all Americans 50-plus who are eligible to become members of AARP. You don’t automatically become member, you choose to become a member, pay your $16 and get the magazines (AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin) and also discounts, tools, and other resources to help live a better life.
Miller: All of what Bob said is our target audience. From an ad standpoint, our target audience has changed somewhat. The 50-plus audience has changed in terms of media habits and tech-savviness. The good news is adults 50-plus still love magazines, so we’re able to engage the audience with our publications.
But they’re also online to the same degree as every other audience. They may not be the earliest adopters, but the Boomer segment does adopt fairly quickly, and they’re driving growth in social media and tablets.
What has happened in the media industry is our competitive landscape has changed. Other print media we didn’t use to compete with has aged into our demo. There are many ways to reach Boomers in print today, and 12 years ago there weren’t that many.
What do you consider your competition? Is it other magazines or other media? Has that changed in recent years?
Miller: We don’t have a direct competitor in print or digital. As you’re aware, we have two print properties and a robust web site. The competition really depends on who the marketer is we’re talking to.
For example, AARP The Magazine has a unique element to it in that we version the magazine by age demo. We actually have three versions, 50-59, 60-69 and 70-plus. Those versions are not ad versions, they’re editorially versioned.
The reason is it would be difficult to be as relevant as we are for each specific life stage. It also is a benefit because from an ad standpoint we can sell those three versions or any combination.
When you’re looking at the 50-59 edition and you’re talking to a beauty or packaged goods product, competition would include women’s books like Oprah and Real Simple and some of the beauty books. If it’s a health advertiser, the competitive set changes. We may still be competing with those others, but also Prevention and Reader’s Digest. If it’s a new drug, it might be The Wall Street Journal or New York Times.
What’s changed most over the past five years is we now compete with other web sites. Whereas Better Homes and Gardens has its web site, our site is its own entity, it’s not our publication’s web site. It’s everything AARP, plus the publication. So we can drive tremendous uniques, and as a result we can compete in digital with sites like WebMD, some of the financial sites and in some cases some news sites as well.
What’s your argument for why magazines can remain relevant in the digital age?
Love: Print has these amazing and unique properties. It’s completely portable. You don’t need wi-fi, a plug or a battery. You can linger on a page or ad as long as you want. If you’ve tried reading long-form articles on the web, it’s a challenge to stay involved.
Print is the ultimate device to read anything longer than four or five paragraphs.
Do you think that overall magazine ad pages will continue their decline or will we get to a point where they start to flatten out?
Miller: The good news for AARP The Magazine and AARP Bulletin is we’re actually up in ad pages, which of course is not the case for all of but a few of those we might consider competitors.
But it is a trend, and I would say that I don’t necessarily think there will be as many publications in the field, and because of that print spending will continue to decrease, but those magazine that can remain extremely relevant to particular audiences will continue to thrive and ultimately the survival of the fittest–you’ll see a smaller pool of magazines and ad dollars, but [ad pages] will flatten out among those properties.
Love: Plus you’ll have the emergence of more niche magazines, which will be easier to publish.
Which cover person did you hear the best feedback about from readers in the past year and why?
Love: I’ve been here for only four months, but we’ve got the most amazing feedback from the four guys from “Last Vegas,” Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman, Kevin Kline and Michael Douglas. Our art guys did a terrific job, and we got them all to come together in a studio in New York. That has been remarkable.
Could you explain AARP’s subscription model? Who gets the magazine and why?
Miller: What happens when you turn about 49 and a half, AARP sends you a note to remind you that you’ll be 50 and you can think about becoming a member to this organization. In order to do that you have to say yes I’d like to become a member, and then pay $16 a year.
Once you become a member you get a membership card, and with that card you’re able to access discounts across categories from rental cars, hotels, stores such as Best Buy, restaurants, and in addition, each month you will receive a lifestyle magazine, AARP The Magazine, targeted to your life stage, and also 10 times a year a news publication, AARP Bulletin.
What are the challenges/rewards of running a magazine that’s tied in with a separate brand (AARP organization)?
Miller: There are few people that have not heard of AARP. As you start speaking to people over 35, they have a good sense of what AARP is. It’s all very positive. It’s a good selling point that we have a credible and trusted environment. Advertisers know that consumers trust our brand, and if they’re advertising in our publication it’s a rub-off. It doesn’t make it easy, but it’s a selling point.
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