Real Simple Stuff

April 7, 2007
Posted by Jay Livingston
Real Simple was #2 on Adweek’s “Hot List” of magazines, just behind O, The Oprah Magazine. Nobody beats Oprah. Seven of the top ten on the Hot List were women’s magazines. Adweek’s editor said, “Young women, older women, women obsessed with living more spiritual, less- cluttered lives — you name it, there is a magazine for almost any advertiser looking to reach women.”

I looked at the latest issue Real Simple. Advertising revenues are up, and the magazine sits on the newsstand shelf fat and prosperous with all those ad pages. It has articles on things like “Six Products for Organizing Your Laundry Room” and “Ten Organizing Problem-Solvers: Restore order in your home with these inventive products.” Suddenly, Real Simple seemed a bit more complicated. It’s an irony others must have pointed out, but since I can’t Google up anything along those lines, I’ll state the obvious:

Companies are rushing to advertise in Real Simple for the same reason they advertise anywhere — because they think the ads will get people to buy their stuff. So either the advertisers don’t know what they’re doing (unlikely) or Real Simple readers are caught in an apparent contradiction. In order to really simplify their cluttered lives they’re buying more stuff.

I admit that I don’t know any of these Real Simple readers, but the image I get is of an addict, a product junkie. The essence of addiction is the idea that the solution to your problem is more of what caused the problem in the first place. The heroin addict thinks he can solve his withdrawal symptoms with another shot of smack. The compulsive gambler thinks he can climb out of the abyss of debt that his gambling has put him in if only he can just make a few winning bets.

If I wanted to lead a more spiritual, less cluttered life I would be getting rid of the stuff in my house (and in my house that clutter includes a lot of magazines and other printed material). I would be cancelling magazine subscriptions, giving stuff away, throwing stuff out. If we have too much, it seems the solution should be less not more. Of course, there are few social rewards for having less, and our whole society and economy are geared towards encouraging the desire for more products. In fact, it seems that what Real Simple is offering is not simplicity but order.

The problem is not that you have too much stuff; the problem is that your stuff is not well organized. The ideal Real Simple reader (ideal from the point of view of the advertisers and probably the publisher, Time Warner) is the woman who tries to achieve a more spiritual and less cluttered life by buying the products featured in the ads and the articles in this magazine and using them to impose order on the chaos. Once the clutter gets organized, she’ll have room for more, more, more.

It makes sense, at least within the context of American culture. Appropriately enough, number four on the Adweek Hot List is a magazine called More.

1 comment:

trrish said...

Ah yes, "More", the magazine for those of us over 40. In a weak moment, I subscribed to it. I have not read one single issue. I think I have 5 of them in my piles of unread things. That pile also contains Oprah magazines (at least 8), New Yorkers (countless) and no doubt one "Real Simple".

The thing with "More" was, I really didn't want to read about problems 40-somethings face. It's much more fun to pretend I'm still in my 30's.

Magazines are an addiction, to me. They advertise in neat little phrases on the cover all the ways they are going to help you get your shit together. So you buy it. Twenty years later, you finally realize that of all those magazines, you've gotten maybe 10 worthwhile tips.

The one issue of "Real Simple" that I bought and read was enough to convince me to stop buying that one. There was nothing real simple about it. There were lots of ideas but I was too disorganized to incorporate any of them into my life. So, I felt like a Real Simple Failure. I've passed on it ever since.

Although I keep buying Oprahs and not reading them, I am convinced that the only magazine worth owning, for me, is The New Yorker. It consistently offers substance that makes me glad I read it. I can't say that about any of the others. I actually used to read the whole magazine every week! I'm not able to keep up anymore, but they are in a pile by my bed for when I start finding all that time I've been looking for.

Most magazines are like junk food. Sometimes they feel good going down, but they rarely provide anything truly nourishing. Though I think everyone wants a donut now and then. There's nothing like People magazine for mindless entertainment