Forget Brangelina: It's Miley Cyrus And Taylor Swift Who Really Sell


Magazine editors can’t find cover stars to drive newsstand sales, because celebrity is dead. True, unless you’re talking about Taylor Swift, Miley Cyrus, or Twilight. Move over, Julia Roberts.

Fashion campaigns have been nearly devoid of celebrities, The Daily Beast’s Jacob Bernstein points out, after years where they were elbowing out models. (The current experiment in non-celebrity, non-professional model advertising — Tod’s, Club Monaco — is one cheap alternative.) And the magazine world is also looking past the usual starlet material.

Says one magazine industry veteran: “The younger celebrities today are not Brad Pitts or George Clooneys. Scarlett Johansson is a very good actress, but is she going to sell magazines to the same degree as Julia Roberts once did? The reason Sarah Jessica Parker is on the cover of Vogue and Marie Claire and everywhere else is because there are so few other people that can sell.”

Well, sort of. When it comes to selling magazines and the younger generation, I’d argue that Glamour editor Cindi Leive gets closer to the mark:

I think what you’re seeing in the magazine world is a certain amount of fatigue with the same old, same old faces. One reason we had a nice sale with Taylor Swift was that you hadn’t seen her on a million magazine covers before and there was actually the hope that ‘Oh my God! I might actually learn something new.’ I think taking risks is serving people well right now.”

That would be the Taylor Swift who was Glamour‘s biggest seller last year, with 740,000 copies on the newsstand, according to the Audit Bureau Of Circulations. Another top seller: Miley Cyrus, who also did extremely well for Elle. Leighton Meester and the Twilight actors were a boon to Harper’s Bazaar. Remember Lauren Conrad? She was one of Cosmo‘s biggest sellers of last year. Amanda Bynes was such a success on the cover of the January 2009 Cosmo that she got a repeat in January 2010.

In other words, there may be celebrities who make more sense for the fashion industry (of which these magazines are an arm), but the stars with giant tween followers are actually moving product. This is also true with the occasionally symbiotic relationship magazines have with box office success. Bernstein points out,

Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, and Mel Gibson’s most recent projects have all been commercial disappointments. Same for Angelina Jolie. In the last five years, only two of her films have crossed the $100 million mark, and the biggest hit of those was Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which seemed to play off of her reported affair with Brad Pitt, who was married to Jennifer Aniston when the film was made.

All true. But those people are all old by the standards of the new celebrity. The Twilight saga was the fourth highest grossing film of last year, and Miley Cyrus made $25 million. Taylor Momsen drives SEO like nobody’s business. And let’s not get started on Justin Bieber on Twitter. Right now, only the very young appear to be consuming culture en masse. (Or perhaps only the very young are a mass product, whoever’s doing the consuming.) And while this demo may have a lot of collective purchasing power, Momsen so far hasn’t gotten her wish to be a high-end model.

And that’s fine. During the boom years, celebrity culture went into overdrive at the same time that everyone seemed to want a piece of luxury. Maybe it was an ill-fated coincidence. It does seem to make more sense for stars whose appeal fashion editors would call “downmarket” to have lines at K-Mart and Wal-Mart than it does for them to do St. John ads. Not least because the St. John consumer doesn’t give a shit.

In other words, fashion has a choice between going back to exclusivity and luxury, or playing ball with the tween stars who are owning the most loyalty right now. Just look at Bonnie Fuller. Having edited Glamour and Marie Claire and reinvented the celebrity weekly, her current website Hollywood Life seems entirely consumed with tween-oriented stars and how sexed-up Miley might be. Anna Wintour is casting her lot with Blake Lively.

What about the grown-up celebs? Sandra Bullock and Sarah Jessica Parker still get a pass to draw serious mass interest, who knows for how long. Fashion brands will mostly look elsewhere, and other spaces will also look to homegrown celebrities to drive niches and not much more. Anyway, after the death of unfunded luxury for all, partly driven by mega-celebrities, it seems to make more sense this way.

The Celebrity Magazine Cover Backlash [Daily Beast]

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