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I Want That! Celebrity Purchasing Power

You know it's true, having a famous star drives your sales.

T.J. Raphael By T.J. Raphael
04/27/2011 -03:52 PM

It’s no real surprise to anyone that a magazine does well when a celebrity graces the cover of a publication—particularly if there’s sex, controversy or just a general feeling of glamour involved.

It doesn’t matter if the shopper is at a Whole Foods Market or a Walmart--the exhilaration a consumer feels when she sees her favorite movie star, fashion model, athlete or latest starlet train wreck on a magazine’s glossy cover is enough to get her to throw it on the black conveyor belt at check out and purchase it.

Gil Brechtel of MagNet Data, a company that provides magazine sales and marketing information to the publishing industry, knows that’s true.

"Magazines sold at retail are impulsive purchases. The cover treatment has to be such that the consumer is drawn to it. If they're shopping off of the check out where there's probably 30 or 40 different magazines displayed, or if they're shopping off the mainline rack where there could be 300 to 400 magazine titles displayed, it has to be something that appeals to the consumer," he says.

Brechtel tells me about when Michael J. Fox donned the cover of the troubled Reader’s Digest. "He's a well liked celebrity and he's going through some health issues. He appeared on the May 2010 issue of Reader's Digest, with a nice picture of him and a caption that read 'What my illness taught me,'" he says, adding the publication, "Indexed 21 percent better than the four previous issues."

MagNet gauges about 150 different themes that could appear on a magazine’s cover, and while Brechtel says there’s no “magic bullet” for getting someone to buy a magazine, he does acknowledge that cult of celebrity does help.

"I don't think there's necessarily a secret formula. I think it has to do with the objects or the celebrities who are on the covers. It has to do with the colors and with a whole bunch of other different factors," he says. "The driving force when you see cover sales spikes or cover sales declines, has to do more with editorial and cover treatment than any other factor."

He’s right. If someone wants to read your magazine because they like to cook and one of your top headlines is about a fabulous chicken masaman recipe, they’ll buy it. But it is peculiar—or not that peculiar—that Angelina Jolie has been a consistently good magazine seller, as has Jennifer Aniston and Lady Gaga.

The glamour of the three pushes the sale – all three are beautiful and completely fabulous. The controversy around the three--the love triangle between Angelina, her husband and Jennifer’s former husband, Brad Pitt, gives readers a feeling of drama that consumers love. Lady Gaga’s controversial machine gun bra top and bare bottom on Rolling Stone also drives the reader to stick out her hand and grab hold of the copy.

The glamour of Grace Kelly on the cover of the May 2010 Vanity Fair issue without a doubt, in this writer’s opinion, helped to sell copies. That issue sold 412,000 editions, which put that publication around 28 percent above the four issues previous to that, according to MagNet.

Celebrities are the Greek gods of our time—they’re beautiful, incredibly powerful, wealthy, adorn beautiful clothes and while we hear about their crazy antics we never actually see them—think of the ancient story of Demeter and the drama around that. It’s no wonder they sell magazines, they’re worshiped like gods.

T. J. Raphael is Associate Editor of Audience Development magazine. Follow her on Twitter.

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