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Today’s Key to Selling Magazines: A TV Doctor
Samantha Feld does not watch much television. But Ms. Feld, a 23-year-old publicist, is a loyal follower of the television celebrity Dr. Mehmet Oz.
She quotes inspirational slogans from his Twitter feed. She added more olive oil to her diet because of his suggestion and made a rare trip into her kitchen to make one of his quinoa recipes. And when she buys magazines, she seeks out ones with him on the cover.
“Whatever he would say, I would just follow that,” Ms. Feld said. “He’s an authority.”
Magazine editors grade celebrities on how well their cover photos sell magazines: Is Jennifer Lopez bigger than Lady Gaga? Can Julia Roberts still move copies on the newsstand? But no one seems to draw readers right now more than Dr. Oz, a 52-year-old cardiothoracic surgeon with a wife and four children.
When Prevention put him on its October 2011 cover, newsstand sales jumped by 45 percent from the year before. Shape editors reported a more than 10 percent jump in sales when Dr. Oz appeared on its November 2011 cover with his wife. Dr. Oz has become so popular that some magazines, like Woman’s World and First for Women, put him on their covers without his consent.
“It’s a major impact,” said David J. Pecker, chairman and chief executive of American Media, who worked with Dr. Oz on the Shape cover. “He’s very, very believable. He’s handsome. He has a lot of female followers.”
It helps that his television viewers also read magazines. His show attracts a following of women aged 25 to 54 who are, according to one study, 126 percent more likely than the average person to read women’s magazines.
Ellen Levine, editorial director at Hearst Magazines, which has featured Dr. Oz on the covers of Woman’s Day, Good Housekeeping and O, said, “His television show appeals to our readers because they feel like they’re in the room with him.”
Dr. Oz is helping to sell magazines at a time when editors are having a harder time figuring out what covers will do that. Maggie Murphy, the editorial director of Parade, who previously worked for Time, said that in the past, a half-dozen celebrities like Michelle Pfeiffer or Princess Diana used to guarantee high sales. Now even a box-office movie star on a cover cannot guarantee that magazines will sell.
“We’re in transition. It’s much harder to find a person who speaks to lots of different groups,” Ms. Murphy said. “If you were looking for a doctor, this would be your guy. There’s always a need for a doctor, especially since George Clooney left ‘ER.’ ”
Editors say Dr. Oz helps promote magazines on his Emmy-winning show and online. Mr. Pecker said Dr. Oz agreed to make a video behind the scenes of his Shape cover shoot and invited the magazine’s editors to appear on his television program. Ms. Murphy said that when Dr. Oz appeared on the January 2012 cover of Parade, he told his viewers about it beforehand.
Richard Stengel, managing editor of Time, said that Dr. Oz wrote a half-dozen articles for him a year, which were well written and well received by readers.
“He understands the promotion world as he understands your lower intestine,” Mr. Stengel said.
Dr. Oz seems to view these covers as a smart marketing tool for himself.
“I realized that magazines, particularly large cover articles, were a perfect companion platform for what we were offering on television,” Dr. Oz said in an e-mail from a cruise in the Mediterranean. “It is a way for us to augment our mission. It’s an extended awareness to our viewers and potential viewers.”
Dr. Oz, who says he follows a strict diet and works out regularly, does not shy away from his image. He has appeared on the Univision program “Despierta América” dancing to “I’m Sexy and I Know it” as his co-hosts shouted “Arriba!” and “Go, Oz! Go Oz!” TMZ featured him shirtless at a beach and called it “Dr. Oz’s sexy day.”
Brenda Fiala, a vice president for strategy at the digital shop Blast Radius, said Dr. Oz was adept at adding his medical credentials to that mix.
“He’s not Robert Downey Jr./New York Fire Department-calendar sexy. He’s not exactly someone you lust after,” Ms. Fiala said. “But he’s safe and reassuring. You want to believe him because he looks good.”
His popularity has spawned “I hate Dr. Oz” Web sites and Facebook pages curated by disgruntled husbands who say they are “subject to the ensnaring power of Dr. Oz over our female counterparts.” They mimic their partners saying “Today, Dr. Oz said” and rant, “I could give a rat’s tail what Dr. Oz says … pass the gravy and hand me my beer!!”
After one spouse of a Dr. Oz fan posted online that he had met the doctor and liked him, another reader advised him to punch Dr. Oz in the face.
Like many publishing fairy tales, Dr. Oz’s story began when Oprah Winfrey invited him to appear on her show. By 2009, he had his own talk show and appeared on his first magazine cover, Natural Health, that November for a story about healthy Thanksgiving meals. When Ms. Winfrey’s show went off the air, he took its key afternoon slot in 83 markets. But Ms. Fiala said Dr. Oz had left behind the Oprah effect and surpassed other television doctors like Dr. Phil in terms of credibility.
“No one buys magazines because Dr. Phil is on the cover,” Ms. Fiala said.
Dr. Oz also is known in the women’s magazine world for being the first man to appear on four covers. After he appeared on Prevention’s October 2011 cover and Shape’s November 2011 cover, he was invited by Oprah to be the first man on the cover of O in January 2012. When Woman’s Day decided to put him on its May 2012 cover, it was the first time that magazine had featured a man on the cover since a portrait of President John F. Kennedy appeared there in 1978, according to Hearst.
But Dr. Oz’s fan base also appears to be expanding beyond the women who watch his show. He was the second-best-selling cover for Men’s Fitness in 2011, behind one that featured Robert Downey Jr.
Time Magazine sold 10,000 more copies than average when Dr. Oz was on the cover of its June 13, 2011, issue, in which he wrote about his colonoscopy.
“He can write about the most esoteric medical thing, and he can write about the most down-to-earth thing, like drinking sodas and eating candy,” Mr. Stengel said. “He’s a man for all seasons.”