fashion photoshoot

Teen Vogue

Introduction

Teen Vogue wants to be “the young person’s guide to conquering (and saving) the world”. The magazine originally featured lots of stories about fashion, celebrity gossip and beauty advice, but its broader focus on social issues and politics has been a hit with young activists. Edging out entertainment, politics became the website’s “most trafficked vertical” in 2017.

This guide to Teen Vogue will look at the institution’s determination to survive in the increasingly competitive media landscape. We will also explore the text through the key concepts of representation and audience. However, you should use recent examples from the Teen Vogue website and their social media accounts to support your own analysis of the text.

Media Industry Context

Teen Vogue is owned by Condé Nast which produces “some of the world’s most iconic brands”, such as Vanity Fair, Wired and The New Yorker, with the aim to “entertain, surprise and empower” in the largest markets around the globe. Its parent company is the “private, family-held” conglomerate Advanced Publications. They also own, for instance, the Discovery brand and are major shareholders in Reddit.

Curran and Seaton argued these powerful conglomerates dominate cultural industries and reduce the amount of choice, creativity and diversity available to the audience. Since Condé Nast own both Teen Vogue and Glamour, you will find exactly the same articles appearing in both publications.

By contrast, other critics might argue only large conglomerates have the financial and technical resources to produce quality content. Small-scale creators and freelancers simply do not have the means to achieve the same standard of output.

Changes in Consumption

While the current AQA Media Studies specification was being written, Teen Vogue was still available to purchase in its print format, but single-copy sales were plummeting. In fact, the company had to distribute 65, 314 free copies to meet the circulation promised to advertisers who were buying space in the magazine. Condé Nast knew they had to meet their audience online and deliver a digital-first product.

Glamour experienced a similar dramatic decline in sales and reduced their circulation. You might also be aware of the demise of Oh Comely magazine.

Teen Vogue continues to respond to changes in consumption with the production of video content for YouTube and TikTok. Reaching and engaging audiences will always be challenging.

The Teen Vogue Audience

According to the Teen Vogue Media Kit, 70% of their users are women and 66% are from the Gen Z and millennial age bracket. In terms of psychographics, their “young” readers are “unapologetic” and “want to change the world for the better”.

It is worth noting 30% of the audience are men and a similar figure are over 40 years of age. In an interview with The Guardian, Elaine Welteroth, a previous editor of the “woke” publication, described the target demographic as “genderless” because she wanted to appeal to “a sensibility” rather than traditional roles.

Teen Vogue's Primary Audience in numbers
Teen Vogue’s Primary Audience (2022)

Personal identity is a key aspect of uses and gratifications theories so consumers might be motivated to visit Teen Vogue because it aims to “disrupt the conversation by educating, enlightening and empowering” its readers. In the “identity” category, you will find articles focused on health, sex and relationships, and wellness. The representations in those pages might help the primary audience construct their own identity and navigate their way through the challenges of teenage life.

Of course, surveillance is another motivation identified by Blumer and Katz. Teen Vogue satisfies this desire because it offers plenty of insights into the glamorous lives of young celebrities. However, the website goes beyond the traditional lifestyle output for teenagers by delivering a strong focus on contemporary issues, such as immigration and climate change.  The “politics” category has lots of stories to keep us up to date with the latest news.

The open editorial by Lauren Duca “Donald Trump Is Gaslighting America” epitomises this socially aware content. The aggressive essay went viral with 1.2 million viewers in 2016 and signalled Teen Vogue’s broader remit.

Diversification and the Prosumer

The physical copies of Teen Vogue magazine followed a linear flow of communication: the editors, writers and photographers created the content which the audience then simply consumed. End of audience theories draw attention to the new digital technologies which enable the immediate and direct interaction between producers and audiences. Interestingly, the move online has not really changed that model because there are very few opportunities on the website for user-generated content.

However, Teen Vogue’s social media team post links to the top stories on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and TikTok. Followers, friends and subscribers can react to the articles, voice their opinions and add comments. Condé Nast claims their brand has an impressive 15.6M social followers and their video content averages 22.9M monthly views. The interconnection of the different platforms is a good example of media convergence.

Henry Jenkins argued there were at least five distinct dimensions to a fandom. For Teen Vogue, the most important dimensions are probably the mode of reception and the social community. First, fans of the website have an intense engagement with the text and then participate in the discussion on the various social channels.

Readers can also “experience” Teen Vogue by attending their Summit and listening to inspirational guests and young leaders. The first event in 2017 promised “amazing immersions and a slew of great speakers” and focused on three themes: “activism, innovation, and creation”. There was also a block party vibe with live music.

The extent of participation and fandom might be limited, but Teen Vogue’s transformation into a digital product demonstrates the changing relationship between the media and the audience.

Decoding Positions

We all decode meanings according to our own framework of knowledge, so it is worth considering different interpretations of Teen Vogue. Stuart Hall described three theoretical positions: dominant, negotiated, and oppositional readings.

The dominant (preferred) reading would accept Teen Vogue’s celebration of celebrity culture and fashion. They would also agree with its political stance, including the rejection of Donald Trump’s agenda. This group would probably subscribe to the daily newsletter to stay “stylish and informed”.

Most readers probably enjoy aspects of Teen Vogue which are relevant to their lives, but they might also ignore those messages which do not align with their interests. This could be considered a negotiated reading.

The oppositional reading understands the encoded message but completely rejects the text. You might think some of the latest trends are absolutely hideous or the outfits are too expensive. Perhaps you disagree with the liberal political ideology. If a Teen Vogue article appears in your social media feed, you will probably keep on scrolling.

If you want to explore the different positions in more detail, pick a few articles and consider the possible responses to their messages. Be specific.

The Representation of Gender

David Gauntlett had already developed his fluidity of identity concept by the time Teen Vogue was first published, but the magazine was still positioning the audience to accept a conventional view of femininity and beauty by focusing on physical appearance rather than emphasising a message of empowerment. Some critics worried the narrow representation in magazines aimed at teenagers was harmful to their self-esteem because young women would be comparing themselves to airbrushed celebrities.

However, there is now a greater focus on individuality and wellbeing. Teen Vogue constructs an active female identity which is supposed to inspire “the next generation of influencers”.  In terms of Judith Butler’s theory of performativity, the images and stories encourage the young readers to express themselves freely and find their own voice in the world. Again, you might want to find recent examples by searching the site.

The Representation of Ethnicity

Teen Vogue has also benefitted from a diverse editorial staff. For example, Elaine Welteroth was the youngest editor in Condé Nast’s history when she was appointed in 2016. She was only the company’s second person of African-American heritage to hold such a position at that time.

You can’t just change the image or the stories, you need to change the storytellers.

Elaine Welteroth

bell hooks argued the white supremacist patriarchal hierarchy reinforced its power through the media, so audiences needed to establish an oppositional gaze which critically assessed traditional representations of women, especially women of colour. Elaine Welteroth created a positive environment where journalists could develop a new cultural agenda with a more diverse representation of women in society. In an interview with The New York Times, she described her determination to raise “cultural awareness” and “foster diversity” at Teen Vogue.

former editor of Teen Vogue
Elaine Welteroth

For example, “diversity” and “inclusion” are tags on the website. They are labelled as “keywords” and can be found at the end of the articles:

examples of tags on Teen Vogue

bell hooks also drew attention to the intersectionality of gender, race and class and its importance to feminism. Teen Vogue does raise awareness of poverty the challenges faced by young people from lower socio-economic groups. No one is reduced to a stereotype. The representations are positive and empowering.

My mission for Teen Vogue is to be as inclusive and representative as possible, to champion and celebrate all kinds of diversity, to be a guide and resource for young people who want to change the world for the better, and to remember to have fun and find joy while doing it.

Versha Sharma (Teen Vogue Editor in Chief)

Codes and Conventions

Teen Vogue follows many of the basic conventions of web design. There is a horizontal navigation bar at the top of the pages with a hamburger menu button, logo and links to the main category pages. You can also signup to their newsletter or search the site from here.

Teen Vogue navigation bar

Under the headers, most pages follow a single column layout with the main copy centred on the screen regardless of the user’s device. This creates a consistent experience across mobile devices, tablets and desktops.

Article pages start with a main image. Then there is a category hyperlink, headline, kicker, byline, dateline, and social media links for you to share the story online. The main copy is left-aligned with a ragged right edge. Articles might also contain photo credits and other acknowledgements.

At the bottom of the page, the footer contains links to their social media channels, contact page, sitemap and privacy preferences. There is also the typical copyright jargon.

Overall, the interface is clean and intuitive which helps to creates a positive user experience. This minimalist approach ensures the content fits all screen sizes and reducing the number of elements on the page allows the reader to focus on the message. This is particularly important for their long-form content. It should also improve website performance, such as the loading speed of the main image, which will appeal to users on their mobiles who have a weaker 3G connection.

The amount of third-party code and JavaScript is substantial, but these files are needed to integrate the social media platforms and digital advertising cookies.

Advertising Revenue

Magazines have always relied on advertising revenue to remain commercially viable. Publishers are able to provide businesses a platform to promote their product or service to a relevant and engaged audience. Magazines are also a trusted source of information for consumers.

The transition from print to online has only heightened that dependence on advertising because publishers are no longer able to generate income from the sale of physical copies of their magazine. Rather than using a paywall, Teen Vogue earns money through ad units, advertorials, sponsored links and, most importantly, affiliate marketing.

Ad Units

Teen Vogue monetise their pages by enabling display ads across their site. Delivered mostly by Google Adsense, the first one is placed just below the main menu. Sticky ads appear in the sidebars on wider screens so, when you scroll down the page, they stick to the top or bottom of the screen. On smaller devices, the ads will appear between stories and are easily mistaken for internal links because Google Ads try to match the font choices and design of the website.

There are two ways Teen Vogue earns money from this strategy:

  1. The number of times an advertisement is viewed by users. These are called impressions.
  2. Each time a user clicks a link. The amount earned is called cost-per-click (CPC).

The value of both depends on the campaign. For example, Teen Vogue will earn more from the sale of luxury jewellery compared to a user flicking past a product for ear waxing.

You can disable these ads by selecting your cookie preferences. If you agree to their policies, these digital advertising agencies will actively scan your device and use precise geolocation data to create a personalised ads profile. They want to get the right content appearing on the screens of those consumers who are most likely to click the link and make a purchase.

With privacy laws becoming tighter around the world, these companies are beginning to use a variety of signals and identifiers without the need for cookies. By mapping consumer behaviour and interest patterns, they hope to define a broader target audience rather than focusing on the individual.

Since Google Ads use cookies to track the content and context of the websites you have visited, look carefully at the following ad because it is based on a combination of your internet history your offline data. If you just see a blank space, your school probably has an adblocker installed.

Affiliate Commission

Many of the stories, especially from the style category, contain external links to other sites where you can purchase the clothes and accessories worn by the models. If you like a particular dress or want to add to your shoe collection, clicking the SHOP NOW button will open a new tab to take you to the relevant online store.

There are also plenty of hyperlinks in the stories. Known as anchor text, these clickable phrases will direct you to a store where you can purchase the newest sunglasses or trendiest jeans. You can spot the snippets because they are a reddish colour: RGB (228, 18, 36) or #e412224.

These affiliate links are selected by the editors at Teen Vogue who hope to earn a commission each time a link is clicked. Teen Vogue will have a unique affiliate ID so the vendors know who should get credit for the sale. The amount of money can be quite substantial when you consider the millions of users who visit the site each year.

Sponsored Stories

Finally, if you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you will see a table of sponsored stories just before the footer. Like the Adsense links, this element also uses the same font family (BatonTurbo) as Teen Vogue, so it seems to be an organic part of the website. However, these recommended stories are probably advertorials based on your interest profile and geolocation.

Once again, clicking an image or a headline will open a new tab in your browser so you can visit another site. Teen Vogue earn a commission each time.

Further Reading

There are three essay questions in the Media Two paper. Each are worth 25 marks. A synoptic question will ask you to focus on The Voice and Teen Vogue. You are expected to develop and sustain a clear argument with your opinions substantiated through specific references to the texts. Our guide to The Voice newspaper will help you prepare for the assessment.

Essay Questions

  1. To what extent can websites reflect the social and cultural context in which they are produced?
  2. How do the codes and conventions of websites influence meaning?
  3. How are values and ideologies constructed by the codes and conventions of websites?
  4. “Website genres reveal wider questions about our culture’s values”. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
  5. Explain why stereotypes and countertypes are used on websites.
  6. Explore how the representation of particular groups have been constructed in the Close Study Product Teen Vogue.
  7. To what extent do the news values of Teen Vogue reflect their ideologies?
  8. Explore how far representations in Teen Vogue reflect their social and cultural context.
  9. To what extent do websites epitomise the audience’s changes in consumption?
  10. How does the impact of new technology continue to influence the production of websites?
  11. “Institutions will have to respond to changes in technology if they want to appeal to the audience”. To what extent do you agree with this statement?
  12. How does Teen Vogue provide a public service?
  13. Explain the importance of convergence in the contemporary media landscape.
  14. Referring to the Close Study Product Teen Vogue, how valid is Stuart Hall’s reception theory to understanding the relationship between the producer and the user?
  15. To what extent does Teen Vogue demonstrate we have reached the “end of audience”?
  16. “The success of websites depends on their interactivity and creativity”. To what extent do you agree with this statement.
  17. Explain why websites target specialised audiences.

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