Cosmopolitan aims for mobile millennials

A new generation of “fun, fearless females” armed with smartphones is boosting Cosmopolitan’s website traffic and driving a digital makeover for the US women’s magazine best known for steamy sex tips.

Cosmopolitan.com’s traffic surged 200 per cent to nearly 30m unique visitors in May from a year ago, according to Adobe Analytics. Mobile now accounts for 69 per cent of its page views, up from a third in 2012.

By way of comparison, a quarter of internet page views globally came from mobile devices in May, up from 14 per cent in 2013, according to StatCounter data.

“The average millennial woman is on her phone all the time. It’s a feed,” said Amy Odell, the Cosmopolitan.com editor who joined its publisher, the privately held Hearst, from Buzzfeed in September.

Cosmo’s redesigned website, launching on Tuesday, slims down content into a single, endlessly scrolling list of articles on topics ranging from nail art to reproductive rights that is designed to keep the reader’s thumb flicking across her iPhone screen.

It is the latest move among publishers – and advertisers – who are eager to capture a bigger share of the attention younger consumers are lavishing on their smartphones.

US adults spend 40 minutes a day more on mobile devices than on desktops and laptops, according to eMarketer, the research group. A survey from Experian Marketing Services found millennials – young adults aged 18 to 34 – account for 41 per cent of US smartphone use, despite making up less than a third of the population.

“Our girls want a simple feed that they can share on their phone, on Facebook,” said Ms Odell. “It’s a balance of fun and serious news coverage, and the site is totally responsive.”

Social media referrals now drive 25 per cent of traffic to Hearst websites, which also include Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire and Elle.

The relaunch of Cosmopolitan.com is the latest phase in a digital transformation spearheaded by Troy Young, an online marketing veteran who took over as Hearst’s president of digital media last year.

The new site is “designed for fast creation of content of all types”, he said. “Posts aren’t just text and pictures. They’re gifs, Tweets, Instagrams.”

The new platform will be rolled out on Elle.com – whose demographic profile runs slightly older than Cosmo’s median 29-year-old – and the male-focused Esquire.com later this year.

At a time when many media companies are working to integrate their print and digital operations, Hearst, under Mr Young’s leadership, is growing its digital operations separate from their paper counterparts.

“What defines success in any publishing environment is rhythm,” Mr Young said. “The rhythm of a monthly [magazine] is a holistic package, with time to assign and pitch stories. What matters in our [digital] group is that we’re on it every second. We’re doing what the medium demands.”

But even as Hearst and other publishers follow their readers on to mobile screens, advertising dollars have been slow to follow.

US mobile advertising spending will account for only 4.6 per cent of total media and entertainment advertising outlays this year, according to PwC, even as eMarketer estimates US adults consume 23 per cent of their time with media on mobile devices.

Among the next challenges for Hearst’s digital operations will be deals with marketers that go “far beyond display”, said Mr Young. But, he acknowledged, “the mobile platform limits options” for advertising.

Another way Hearst could monetise its online audience is offering access to exclusive events or experiences, Mr Young suggested.

Titles such as Cosmopolitan could dig into their trove of data on what subjects interest readers to create “very distinct, personalised offers for consumers based on what you know about them”, such as the opportunity to pay to see the first pictures of an occasion like Kanye West’s and Kim Kardashian’s recent wedding.

That could borrow from the model popularised by mobile games in which players pay for bonus powers and lives, he said.

“The way we’ll get people into it will be more like Candy Crush Saga than subscription offers.”

shannon.bond@ft.com

Twitter: @shannonpareil

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