For Real Simple, Demographic Dissonance

Real Simple represents a pragmatic alternative to the scores of so-called women’s “lifestyle” magazines that often fail to reflect a real woman’s day-to-day concerns.  After all, how many “real women” actually enjoy the financial security to purchase the season’s $400 “must have” shoes, or the time to complete the five-step regimen for perfect skin?  Real Simple has a firm grasp on the need for practical information, but the magazine struggles to adhere to its own pared-down philosophy.

Real Simple magazine aims to attract women who are more interested in sensible, relevant advice than fantasy femininity for the fashionable elite.  The result is a magazine that shows undeniable potential, yet continues to exhibit some amount of uncertainty as to the identity and desires of its primary demographic.

Take, for instance, Real Simple’s articles about modern living.  The September issue of Real Simple offers two pieces focusing on the effective use of technology.  The first presents a user’s guide to computer ports: what the port looks like, what it is used for, and what it plugs into.  The second features several experts as they weigh in on proper technological etiquette: whether it’s rude to ignore friend requests on social networks, the dangers of blind carbon copying, and the appropriateness of emoticons in workplace correspondence.

Both of these stories are certainly relevant in their own right.  However, we have to stop and wonder:  would the same woman who lacks a basic understanding of the functionality of a USB port also need a primer on the finer points of Internet etiquette?

The two articles present an incongruous view of its demographic: is the Real Simple reader saddled with only the most basic understanding of technology, or is she a tech-savvy woman who has integrated these devices into her lifestyle so fully that she needs a primer on technological etiquette?  The editors of Real Simple don’t seem to know, and neither do we.

Real Simple is notable in what it lacks.  The magazine shows a refreshing absence of articles about men and sex, and a limited focus on fashion and beauty. However, the magazine exhibits even more inner dissonance in the message conveyed by its central fashion spread.  While the bulk of Real Simple focuses on cost cutting, deal finding, and effective financial management, the magazine’s article about “Trends Worth Trying” still features a $495 tote bag and $1,495 necklace.  So much for bargain finds.

In the endless sea of women’s lifestyle magazines, Real Simple represents a publication still struggling to discern its place in the industry. Does the Real Simple woman want authenticity or escapism?  Is she looking for useful advice or superficial froth?  Perhaps most importantly, is it possible – or desirable – to reconcile these conflicting purposes in one cohesive publication?

These are questions that the editors of Real Simple must answer.

-Brenna Cammeron


1 Response to “For Real Simple, Demographic Dissonance”

  1. 1 Jen September 24, 2008 at 8:03 pm

    Brenna–I love your alliterative style and the fact that you subtly (perhaps subconsciously?) evoked the spirit of Carrie Bradshaw. I too, often incorporate the “couldn’t help but wonder…” transitional device into my writing.

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