Why Cookie Magazine Failed

100709_livThe big news in the publishing world this week was the shutting down of four Conde Nast magazines, including one of my favorites, Cookie Magazine.

The magazine was launched in 2005, a few months before my wife became pregnant with our first child. As most new parents, when we found out about the pregnancy we registered for baby showers and soon our mailbox was flooded with marketing material, including promotional copies of magazines such as Baby and Parenting. Both are fine magazines, but neither really resonated with our vision of parenthood. They seemed a bit dated (like something my mom would read) and even a bit alarmist with articles like “10 Household Toxins that Can Kill Your Child.”

Then I stumbled upon Cookie Magazine.

What first struck me about Cookie was unlike other parenting magazines, the editors understood that my wife and I were indeed new parents, but we also had interests other than learning what to do with a colicky baby. It was designed beautifully and the content was relevant to not only my wife and I, but our friends who were also experiencing the joys of new parenthood.

As a family marketing professional, I admired their ability to speak to today’s new generation of parents. As a dad of two young girls, I enjoyed reading their music and DVD reviews. I immediately began sharing my new find with friends, and soon Cookie was a source of inspiration around the Subcat Marketing offices. Whenever we discussed editorial content for our Gen X mom newsletter, “Family Money,” someone would ultimately say, “What would Cookie do?” It definitely inspired our columns, “Indie Rock Mom” and “Grow-Daddy-O.”

Now if Cookie Magazine was so great and ground-breaking, what went wrong? Here’s my two cents:

1. Conde Nast didn’t understand the true audience for Cookie. I believe they saw Cookie’s audience as upscale parents with an eye for fashion and cool music.
Reality: Cookie’s potential audience ran deeper than an upscale niche market. It was an entirely new generation of moms—mostly Gen Xers—the first generation of moms who grew up with MTV. As a result, today’s mom is cool, has an eye for fashion and LOVES music. Oh, and thirty-two percent of Gen X moms have tattoos.* Conde Nast’s focus was too narrow. They should have expanded their reach to more aggressively target mainstream parent magazines such as “Baby,” “Parents” and “Parenting.” Unless these magazines begin altering their approach to appeal to Gen Xers (and eventually Gen Yers), they will fall to a variety of mommy blogs and online publications such as babble.com that “get it.”

2. Fashion doesn’t have to be expensive. By focusing on upscale parents, Cookie frequently featured clothes, accessories and furnishing that weren’t exactly budget-conscious (i.e. $230 Silver Ponlina ballerina shoes, $450 Eric Moto jacket and the $288 Juicy Couture double-breasted peacoat).
Reality: While it’s true that fashion plays a big part of today’s Gen X mom’s sensibility, few parents today can afford the extravaganzas Cookie often featured. Don’t get me wrong, it may be cute to see kids dressed in designer outfits—and maybe it’s even aspirational—but it’s just isn’t realistic in today’s economy. It seemed like Cookie was slowly realizing this, recently highlighting affordable clothing options from H&M and Gap Kids alongside their typical high-end designers. They even featured a great article in their June 2009 issued titled, “The $um of All Fears,” in which four moms shared their families’ money issues.

3. Being cool doesn’t have to be pretentious. Cookie nailed the Books, Music and DVD/TV review sections of their magazine. By highlighting hip kid artists like Secret Agent 23 and The Sippy Cups, as well as showcasing kid-appropriate music from The Beastie Boys, The Clash and Mates of States, Cookie established indie cred. This, more than anything else, really resonated with Gen Xers who don’t think parenting and being cool is mutually exclusive of each other. However, there was a common complaint from many of Cookie’s critics that the magazine was simply too pretentious. They wore their “coolness” on their sleeves. Instead of being inclusive, it seemed at times the magazine was exclusive. Some articles at times could come off a little heavy-handed and self-important.
Reality: There were definitely parts of the magazine that appealed more to me than others. I’m not totally convinced Cookie was pretentious, but I understand the argument. If Cookie wanted to appeal to a larger audience, they could have stepped back from the “New Yorker” tone of some of it’s articles and embraced a warmer, more everyday execution. Also, Cookie placed a heavy emphasis on urban lifestyle, which prevented it from connecting with a suburban audience—the traditional readers of parenting magazines.

There you have it. My quick observations as to why I think my favorite parenting magazine didn’t make it. I’m sure there’s way more to the magazine’s failure than I’ve been able to capture in my initial thoughts. If anyone else has any theories, I’d love to hear them.

I really hope Cookie will be able to maintain an online presence, however, I having a feeling we’ll also see that fade away. For those of you fiending for a Cookie-esque approach to parenting, try babble.com.

* Source: Marketing to the New Super Consumer Mom & Kid; Coffey, Siegel, Livingston.

Comments (2)

  1. James,

    Thanks for this post. Not only did I enjoy your insights – I am trilled for the introduction to you and your firm.
    Like you, I am sad to see Cookie go. I wrote about this earlier in the week. http://www.fortyweeks.com/content/and-so-the-cookie-crumbles-a-sad-day/
    Your view and even your expectations for Cookie are somewhat different from mine. I have always considered it to be the bible of what I call “aspriational parenting” — it was like many other Conde titles (Vogue for example) a vision of something quite fantastic and out of reach. It was, as you pointed out – very urban and moneyed – but to me that was the point.

    My clients used Cookie as a branding partner more than anything else. Showing up in the pages of Cookie was a significant statement – it clearly defined brands and made clear their intention.
    I do think there is room for a more accessible Cookie. And I am optimistic that such a book with emerge. As you point out – it is important to “see yourself” in magazines — even if what you see is a fantasy of who you might be — maybe the Cookie fantasy was just too far?

    Looking forward also, to more great conversation!

    • Great to hear from you Julia. Thanks for your insight on Cookie. It really gave me a different perspective on the magazine. And I really enjoyed your blog post on Cookie’s demise. (I highly recommend it to anyone interested in this topic.)

      I’m sure I’m looking at Cookie more from a parent’s perspective than a prospective advertiser. When I consider how your clients viewed Cookie, it seems different than how I (in my dad role) experienced Cookie. I admit that I was just so impressed with the magazine that for the longest time I never even saw it as aspirational. It just seemed right. It was impeccably designed, had fun music reviews and the food section was a bit quirky. But occasionally I’d come across something that was so ludicrous (i.e. a $3,000 swing set) that it would disconnect my experience with the Cookie brand (at least what it was in my mind). Granted, I wasn’t exactly the target reader, but I probably wasn’t that far off either.

      I see now that the point of Cookie was to be very urban and moneyed, but I don’t think that’s what made Cookie resonate with so many readers. For me, it’s charm was in it’s ability to connect with today’s parents, not because it was an affluent brand, but because it wasn’t yet another boring parenting magazine devoid of excitement. Who knows, maybe Cookies’ readers and advertisers had different expectations of the brand just as you and I do.

      I’m also hoping that a more accessible version of Cookie emerges. I really think there is a huge market for a magazine that speaks to today’s new generation of parents.

Leave a Comment

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>