Women's interest media gets a makeover

Worldwide director of J. Walter Thompson's Innovation Group: Vice's launch of its women's channel Broadly represents a fresh new era of women's media. Can marketers get to grips with it?

Something is stirring in the world of "women’s interest" media — the segment historically dominated by relationship Q&As, bikini-body fitness guides and fashion roundups.

A wave of new platforms are launching, each offering an alternative to the traditional formats and subject matter, whether that’s charting politics over lipstick or topical debate over chick-lit reviews.

This week saw the launch in the US, UK and Canada of Broadly, Vice Media's new female-centric platform led by former Jezebel editor Tracie Egan Morrissey— an endeavor broadening the overtly bro-voice of Vice to a female audience.

Soon to follow is The Front, a new platform created by Thalia Mavros, former Vice ECD, aimed at showcasing the female voice in arts, documentary and news media.

Over in the UK, there’s The Pool, a multimedia platform that hosts a more grownup daily mix of topical news, arts, culture, lifestyle and fashion. The Pool feels more like a community — readers are invited to become members and create profiles.

Another UK entrant is The Debrief, launched by BauerMedia in 2014. Aimed at 20-something connected women, it resembles a Tumblr page and features four topic areas: News, Style, Sex and Things to Do. (Imagine if Buzzfeed and Cosmopolitan had a baby, and you’ll get the picture.)

Brands are already expressing an interest. During Cannes Lions 2015, Unilever announced a multi-year deal with Vice Media to support the launch of Broadly. "We believe that Broadly can drive purposeful, authentic and lasting conversations with our consumers, particularly the worldwide community of young women who can now engage with content that focuses on what matters most to them," Keith Weed, chief marketing and communications officer at Unilever, told the Guardian.

Clinique, the Estée Lauder beauty brand, has embarked on a partnership with The Pool for content and events — co-hosting a conference where inspirational women, from blogger Sasha Wilkins and journalist Cathy Newman, were interviewed on stage. 

It’s an interesting time for these platforms to launch. Traditional women’s glossies continue to decline in sales. According to 2015 figures from the Magazine Information Network, the number of magazines sold at retail outlets in the US and Canada sank 14.2% in the first quarter of 2015, compared to the same period last year. Celebrity and women’s titles (historically the two biggest categories), declined 18% and 15%, respectively, bigger losses than in another segment.

It’s clear the classic formula needs a rethink, but is this new wave of platforms necessarily the answer?

Examine the behavior of Millennial women; increasingly, their interests, motivations and lifestyles merge with men. Women are just as interested in business; are as likely to attend a tech conference as men; and are as interested in fitness, culture and taking care of their bodies as men. Meanwhile, men are increasingly engaged parents; interested consumers of domestic goods; and sophisticated groomers and purchasers of skincare. They’re as interested in the latest recipe and hair conditioner as women.

In other words: The rules that defined and inspired men’s and women’s titles long ago are increasingly out of sync with what is becoming a blurred gender universe.

It continues even more so with Generation Z — our study found that 12- to 19-year-olds that make up this cohort are not only highly progressive when it comes to gender and race, they also see it less as a definer. Jaden Smith (son of Will) recently attended his prom in a dress and wears nail polish. Meanwhile, more Gen Z girls are interested in STEM and gaming than ever before — half of gamers are now girls.

While it’s great that Vice has realized the need to soften, or at least round out, its masculine overtone — was a whole other women’s platform necessary? And does it reflect actually how teens are consuming? I’d say perhaps not, although platforms like Broadly, offer  brands an attractive new context to position personal care and beauty products that Vice Media’s other platforms might not have. The Pool’s intelligent, inspirational events are also a smart way for Clinique to connect with New Wave feminism and a sophisticated female audience.

Both of these titles are encouraging because they present an alternative, expanded view of "women’s interest" that women’s print magazines, particularly luxury fashion ones, seem not to have caught up to. 

Millennial women entrepreneurs are growing quicker than any other group in the US. They’re writing business plans, travelling, creating strategies and building empires. About 36% of women aged 25 to 34 have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with about 28% of men who are the same age, according to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research — though shamefully they are still paid less than men. With the highly educated, engaged Generation Z heading on the horizon, there will be more successful, ambitious women to follow.

And what do these successful, worldly, technologically engaged women have to read? It’s still largely, and singularly, fashion features, beauty pages, and celebrity interviews. Which is fine, to a point.

I am in my 30s, a global director, love a fashion page as much as the next person and will happily read face cream reviews — but I also want to know about the startup world, which carry-on is best for business travel, the basics of building my own microsite and how to gut a fish. 

I still buy Vogue, but I’ve long since migrated from virtually every other women’s title to broader-interest magazines from Wired, to Bloomberg Businessweek, Condé Nast Traveller, The Financial Times and Creative Review. And, judging by the figures, I’m one of a growing group. 

The portfolio I read reflects my interests and aspirations as a woman today — it’s multifaceted and broad. Women’s magazines, brands and marketers need to understand this. 

Lucie Greene is worldwide director of J. Walter Thompson's Innovation Group.

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