Women’s media: is it all too broad?

The world doesn't understand us women. At least that's the impression left by women's print and online publications in Canada, according to some experts, who say many are too broad and fail to effectively speak to females....

The world doesn’t understand us women. At least that’s the impression left by women’s print and online publications in Canada, according to some experts, who say many are too broad and fail to effectively speak to females.

The short lifespan of women’s Web site Springboard.ca, which Rogers Communications pulled earlier this month, citing a drop in Internet advertising revenue, underscores the point. ‘It was supposed to provide inspiration and resources, and it didn’t do that well,’ says Leslie Danis, managing partner at GenderMark, a Toronto-based firm that consults on marketing to women. ‘Maybe they realized what they provided isn’t what women want.’ (According to a source, Springboard had just wrapped up a radio and print ad campaign. It also invested in banner ads on Rogers’ other sites, like Flare.com and Quicken.ca.)

There isn’t any doubt that marketers need to reach women. They influence 75% of all household purchases and 49% of female Internet users bought on the Net as of July 2000, according to the Canadian Women Online Study, which is conducted by Toronto-based retail consultancy J.C. Williams Group.

Transcontinental Media’s female-oriented Web site mochasofa.ca will provide a useful outlet for advertisers, believes Linda Pétrin, director of new media at Transcontinental, because it will feature practical resources, such as expert advice. ‘Women come to the Web on a mission,’ she says. ‘When you look at how they think and what the Web can offer, there’s a natural synergy between the two.’

Set to take off this spring, the site and its French language affiliate MokaSofa, is geared at all women who venture online. The portal will be promoted through Transcontinental’s nine women’s titles, including Canadian Living, Elle Canada and Homemaker’s, and will have input from the print publications, as well as original content. A spring ad campaign, involving TV, radio and probably viral marketing, will introduce the site to consumers.

Graham Jones, director of sales, new media at Transcon, won’t specify who is advertising on the site, but says it ranges from cosmetic to financial service and food companies. Jones also emphasizes MochaSofa’s distinction from Springboard, in that it links Transcon’s various titles on the site. ‘Springboard was creating its own brand, with its own content and without strong links to Rogers’ existing women’s publications,’ he says.

Still, sites such as these sometimes lack depth, says Natalie Melling, president of Toronto-based Web strategies firm OpenCorporation. She believes Springboard, which debuted in January and targeted 25- to 49-year-old women, should have been more focused. ‘The broad, brush stroke approach is not effective,’ she says. ‘The challenge is to position yourself in a way where you can learn about your users, and then customize the site for them.’

At a time when advertisers are enamored with niche marketing, print magazines like Chatelaine also tend to be wide-ranging, says Rob Young, senior VP planning and research at media buying agency Harrison, Young, Pesonen & Newell. He thinks Canadian glossies are reacting to high spill from U.S. competitors, which has forced them to adopt an ‘all things to all people’ approach. ‘This way they can draw on a number of advertising categories and maximize ad revenue, as well as try to provide interest to different segments of women consumers,’ he says.

To fill a void in the women’s magazine market, Flare will launch an offshoot called Flare & Co. this spring. Flare publisher David Hamilton says the book, which will be mailed to subscribers and given away with Flare at newsstands, explores style beyond fashion and will provide a venue for non-fashion advertisers.

The newest kid on the women’s magazine stand is Elle Canada, the result of a marriage between Transcontinental and Hachette Filipacchi Magazines. The thick glossy, which will go head-to-head with both Fashion and Flare, was born on March 14 weighing in with more than 130 pages of advertising.

While there is no data on its readership yet, publisher Francine Tremblay thinks it will be similar to that of Elle Quebec. The average age of the Elle Quebec reader is 34 and she has a high income, with 27% of readers in the $50,000 to $75,000 bracket. But Elle Canada is almost as wide, demographically speaking, as its competitors are, admits Tremblay. ‘It’s no more targeted than any other book, but I think they all have different personalities,’ she says.

Despite rumours that advertisers held out on Fashion and Flare for Elle Canada, Hamilton says Flare hasn’t felt any pinch. ‘The real issue is whether advertisers will support Elle and others in the market,’ he says. ‘From what we can gather, the answer is yes.’

Danis has another criticism regarding women’s magazines in this country. Many are too fluffy, she says. Springboard, for instance, recently supplied its readers with the valuable information of how to buy a washing machine in its Money section. (The perfect read during commercial breaks of Young & the Restless.) ‘It’s a missed opportunity because [magazines] don’t provide women with a lot of important information,’ she says.

Elm Street, on the other hand, is an ideal magazine for advertisers to invest in because it offers ‘pertinent and intellectual’ articles, points out Danis. On the flip side, Young reports that Elm Street has fewer readers per copy than say, Chatelaine. Therefore, he says, media buyers will often select a general magazine because it costs less and has depth of reach, then add others with more tightly defined demographics, like Canadian House & Home.

But Danis points out marketers also miss the mark if they only approach females through women’s media. ‘Every 11 seconds a woman leaves corporate North America to start her own business. Yet I open Fast Company and I don’t find any ads that speak to me.’ In other words, not unlike a pubescent male, women’s media has yet to discover what women really want.