Skip navigation


The value of merchandising kids' magazines in supermarkets is well illustrated by how suppliers are using these publications to reach young people, who are the grocery channel's future shoppers.The April issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids carried an ad for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes on the front inside cover. But instead of the usual cartoon graphics of Tony the Tiger, there was an action shot of

The value of merchandising kids' magazines in supermarkets is well illustrated by how suppliers are using these publications to reach young people, who are the grocery channel's future shoppers.

The April issue of Sports Illustrated for Kids carried an ad for Kellogg's Frosted Flakes on the front inside cover. But instead of the usual cartoon graphics of Tony the Tiger, there was an action shot of downhill skier Maggie Behle, a member of the U.S. Disabled Ski Team. The copy read, "On the Edge With Team Tiger. She can do more on one leg than most people can do on two."

This ad marks the first time since SI for Kids launched the kids' print category in 1989 that Kellogg's Frosted Flakes has run this kind of ad in a kids' magazine.

The kids' print category has been transformed in the past seven years from virtually nonexistent into a marketing force with a combined circulation of 3.5 million. That's a larger reach than Newsweek or People magazine and equivalent in size to the entire category of parenting magazines.

Not only has the kids' print category become more sizable and respectable, it has grown to become more powerful with household names like Disney, Nickelodeon and Sports Illustrated behind the magazines. Many ads in these magazines are a component of much larger corporate promotions that involve other media.

Such ad support given to kids' magazines is helping to build brand loyal consumers of the future and to drive product sales at retail.

Marketers have come to realize the financial clout and influence kids have in the marketplace. According to a Texas A&M University study, kids spend about $10 billion of their own money on everything from candy to toys, clothes and CDs, and that's before they ask their parents to contribute an additional $140 billion on more of the same items. "In general," said Cleary Simpson, publisher of SI for Kids, New York, "there are more companies and brands that recognize both the short- and long-term importance of kids to their marketing efforts. There's been a strong recognition of the kids' buying power as well as their direct influence on the family's purchases."

Leigh Novog, national marketing manager for Boys' Life, which is based in Irving, Texas, agreed. "By introducing more magazines to the field, more marketers have stood up and paid notice to the kids, the kids' buying power and the kids' spending patterns."

"Obviously, we advertise Cap'n Crunch in the kids' magazines because it's a presweetened cereal, and we're trying to drive kids' requests to the mom," said Wendy Smith, senior vice president and director of media planning at Bayer, Bess, Vanderwarker in Chicago, who handles the media plans for Quaker Oats' Cap'n Crunch Cereal and Gatorade.

Added Simpson of SI: "Before, products were sold to moms to be consumed by kids, but they were always marketed to moms because it was presumed that moms made the decision in the supermarkets. Now these same manufacturers are spending lots of money to market to kids.

"Many companies that you might not expect to advertise now do," Simpson said. "SI for Kids started the kids' advertising category with 36 different brands or companies. Now we have more than 150." Yet, many manufacturers still shy away from the kids' print category, which is dominated by Boys' Life, Disney Adventures, Nickelodeon and SI for Kids and also encompasses the comic book publishers. Last year the kids' magazines pulled in $28 million in ad revenues, according to Publisher's Information Bureau.

"In 1988, television was the only way to market to children," said Lynn Lehmkuhl, publisher of Nickelodeon magazine, New York. "There were no other choices. You didn't even have kids' print to reject."

Lacking evidence to the contrary, many manufacturers at that time ignored the medium, believing that kids didn't read magazines and that they didn't influence brand selection. So in 1992, the big four kids' magazines -- Boys' Life, Disney Adventures, Nickelodeon and SI for Kids -- banded together to fund some proprietary research that Lehmkuhl said helped advertisers to understand what kids' print could add to their marketing mix and allowed them to evaluate it with a degree of confidence.

Today, Eileen McNerney, vice president and associate media director at Saatchi & Saatchi, New York, uses kids' print for several General Mills products her agency handles.

"A print ad is a creative and tangible way to get a message to kids. It's something they can hold in their hands," she said. McNerney has used kids' print for Fruit Roll-ups, Trix and Lucky Charms, often behind an event strategy, for a special promotion or for a big push for a specific brand.

"We use kids' print primarily because it increases reach over a base of television. And where is a better place to advertise Spiderman Fruit Roll-ups than in Spiderman Comics?" she asked. Smith of Bayer, Bess, Vanderwarker said the growth of the category and the cost of television are factors in the decision to use print.

"Broadcast has become horribly expensive against kids and ratings are so volatile. Over the years, kids' print has become more acceptable, partly because of the growth in the circulation of the publications. They now capture a sizable audience," she said. Ads from her brand group are currently running in about eight kids' magazines.

Novog of Boys' Life remembers what happened five years ago. "We banded together -- which was unprecedented in the magazine industry -- because there was such a need for awareness among marketers and companies that kids' print was a viable category." While some marketers still may be hesitant to put their dollars in kids' print, the publishers of the big four kids' magazines are quick to point out that print offers them a unique opportunity for interaction with kids.

"There are certain things you can do through print, obviously, that you can't do through broadcast," said Peter Medwin, publisher of Disney Adventures, New York, "like sweepstakes, response-oriented things, and anything that asks the kid to write something down. Sweepstakes responses that offer data bases are almost exclusive to print."

Last year, Disney Adventures helped design a sweepstakes promotion around the existing package of Franco-American's Gargoyles brand shaped pasta and a custom, half-page Gargoyles comic in Disney Adventures. To solve a mystery and enter the sweepstakes, kids had to go into supermarkets and look at the Gargoyles can.

"The kids' magazines pride themselves on using their knowledge of the market to create ads and promotions that appeal to kids. We know what works for kids and what doesn't," said Medwin. "We know what elements get kids to respond, if that's the objective of the promotion."

Tom Baer, vice president and director of event marketing at Frankel & Co., Chicago, has worked with many of the kids' magazines for Frankel's client, Nestle Quik, and finds these magazines to be very cooperative and receptive to promotional ideas.

"Perhaps the magazines are a bit hungrier than television, which tends to be sold out all the time anyway. But we've found them to be very promotion-minded and they tend to work well for us."

Recently, Quik did a joint-promotion with Nickelodeon magazine in which the prize for a sweepstakes offered a child the opportunity to star in a Quik ad that would run in Nickelodeon magazine. The program, "How [winner's name] got from Quik to Nick," ran in the January issue and the ad ran in October. Baer reported the activity received "a lot of good responses."

Beyond interaction and promotion, kids identify with these magazines. SI's Simpson reasons that kids come to the kids' magazines to find out what other kids are doing. "In print, there's a sense of reference. Kids look at the magazine for the definition of cool. It's a reference source for cool stuff."

Research provided by Kids MagNet, an association of kids' magazines, said kids look at the same issue of any magazine an average of six times and use ads in the magazine to "learn about the products."

"Kids love the fact that they can spend as much time as they need to get information from an ad and that they can show it to their friends or parents, saying, 'This is what I want,' " Lehmkuhl said. "With TV, if they have any questions about the product or if they were intrigued by the message, it's gone in 30 seconds."

Medwin, at Disney Adventures, points out that kids' print is more selective than kids' television. "It also reaches bodies that are more literate and have higher household incomes than the general and mass bodies you get with television. It's not that different from marketing to adults," he said.

While the sight, sound and motion of television ads create a memorable impression in most kids, many kids' marketers agreed that kids are suspicious, jaded and almost cynical about television ads. They said this doesn't happen as much with print.

"Kids are more likely to believe a magazine ad than a television commercial," Lehmkuhl said. In the MagNet study, 68% of kids felt that magazine ads tell the truth more than television ads.