Reading Magazine Ads in Latin America

The revenue stream for a magazine comes from two principal sources --- circulation and advertising.  For most magazines, neither source by itself is sufficient to sustain the operations of the magazine.  To have little or no advertising means that the cover price of the magazine has to be raised higher, which would become a relative disadvantage against competitors who carry more advertising and can therefore offer lower cover prices.  In some situations, a magazine may actually be provided free to a controlled and qualified audience (such as information technology managers) and rely totally on advertising.

Magazine advertising is premised upon the fact that people actually read those advertisements and take actions as a result.  Yet, the reality is that not everyone reads the ads in the magazines and not all magazines are read with equal attention for their ads.  The purpose of this article is to discuss the segmentation of magazine ad readership.

We will now cite some data from the TGI Latina study.  This is a survey of 48,885 persons between the ages of 12 to 64 years old, who were interviewed in eight Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Panama, Peru and Venezuela) during 2001.  During the survey process, the respondents were shown the statement: "I enjoy reading ads in magazines."  Among the 48,885 respondents, 13.3% said that they completely agreed with the statement.

In the following chart, we show that the incidences separately by age/sex groups.  For any given age group, the incidences are significantly higher form females over males.  Within each sex, the highest incidence is among the teenagers (12 to 19 year olds).  For young people, especially girls, magazines are windows to the world beyond their immediate circle of family and friends.  This is how they find out about what the world does and thinks, through the magazine articles as well as advertisements.  In the book Decoding Women's Magazines, Ellen McCracken wrote:

In his study of the historical origins of advertising in England, Williams has analyzed the paradox that advertising in our materialist society is in fact not materialist enough.  The material object that advertising tries to sell is never sufficient in itself: it must be validated, often only in fantasy, by additional meanings which Williams term "magic."  Added to material commodities in order to sell them is "a  highly organized and professional system of magical inducements and satisfactions" that have little if any material link to the products themselves.  In fact, it is precisely because consumer goods often fail to satisfy many human needs and desires that advertising uses magic to associate consumption with human desires: women's magazines for example, promise that a shampoo will bring women male attention or that a dress will assure success on the job, although neither product will satisfy these needs in practice.

Ultimately, however, advertising does more than sell products, according to Williams.  Not surprisingly, the cultural patterns of the system of magic begin to take root in a society, becoming a system of communication in their own right.  Williams notes that once the magic pattern has been established, people respond to each other's "displayed signals" which symbolize one's having made the correct purchases.  Consumers use commodities as a means of expression, a kind of language, and eventually come to depend upon the system of fantasy.

For advertisers, magazines are therefore effective tools to build up relationships with or cement the loyalty from these budding consumers.

In the next chart, we show the incidences by socio-economic status and educational level.  The incidences decrease with affluence and educational level.  This is perhaps a surprising finding.  The accepted wisdom is that magazines are read by the affluent (see, for example, Characteristics of Magazine Readers).  Yet this principal audience appears to be the least appreciative of the magazine ads that are targeted towards them.  These data do not provide any conclusive explanations.  On one hand, the affluent and educated may have become inured to advertising because they have been over-exposed to them.  On the other hand, it may be their education that has taught them not to take advertisements at their words.

(posted by Roland Soong, 5/25/2002)

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