By  on June 22, 2010

The world is online — yet fashion brands are still reluctant to advertise there.

Ad experts say that even as fashion brands shift more of their marketing spend online, they aren’t clamoring to place their ads on the Web as much as they are using it for e-commerce, blogs, posting news about their brands and building social networks. Among the reasons are:

• Impactful fashion imagery doesn’t translate as well online.

• There is too much clutter on the Web and their ads don’t stand out.

• It’s debatable whether online fashion ads actually move merch.

“Look at the initial forms of advertising online — window ads and banner ads, they’re so miniscule. You couldn’t get your message across. They [fashion brands] couldn’t grasp we were going into a new world,” said David Lipman, owner of ad agency Lipman. He noted some nonfashion brands have successfully used rich media online, such as creating takeovers, 3-D animation and dynamic motion. “Bigger mass brands were doing that. Fashion brands were way behind. They were stuck with banner ads,” said Lipman.

Executives see several different futures for fashion advertising, depending on a customers’ age, attitude and comfort level with the digital world. In many scenarios, print remains a core buy, especially as a way to reinforce a luxury image and sell merchandise, but it’s now only one part of a multichannel platform that mixes print, online, outdoor, mobile, TV and social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter.

The whole definition of advertising is being turned upside down. Brands are beginning to create their own “editorial” content online in efforts to market themselves and build their own audiences and databases. They are increasingly shifting spending from traditional advertising to funding their own Web sites.

For luxury advertisers — whose seasonal ads with beautiful models photographed in fabulous locations in the past made the March and September issues of fashion magazines as thick as telephone books and where “positioning” has always been pivotal — the migration to the Web has been slow to come. Ad executives noted advertisers who have tried to imitate their print ads online haven’t had much success since online ads need to offer an experience — a call to action with various links to engage readers.In essence, it’s a totally different ball game.

“Marketers in general are struggling with the transition [online], particularly categories that have been very reliant on traditional media in the past,” said Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. “If you’ve been very dependent on print and TV historically, it’s challenging. Part of the challenge is creativity, especially with image-driven categories. How do you do that on the Web successfully?”

For fashion advertisers in print publications, “the advertising is part of the experience. In the online space, it’s not the case,” he said. Calkins believes there’s a deep understanding of how traditional print and TV work, which is more uncertain online. “In a sense, it’s a scary change, and it also opens up enormous opportunities. It gives marketers a chance to interact with the consumer on a deeper level. There’s a new level of communication and involvement. The transition is under way, and you can’t stop it. All you can do is participate in it,” said Calkins.

A recent study by the Society of Digital Agencies has shown a continued upward surge in digital media investment for 2010. The study showed that 81 percent of brand executives surveyed expected to increase their digital projects in 2010, and 50 percent will be moving dollars from traditional to digital budgets. Some 78 percent felt the economy would push more funds to digital media.

For the first time, digital spending is expected to eclipse print ad spending this year, according to an Outsell Inc. study of 1,008 advertisers. Companies will spend $119.6 billion on online and digital strategies (which includes online publications, video, search engine keywords and e-mail) versus $111.5 billion in print, such as newspaper and magazine ads. Overall U.S. spending on advertising and marketing will increase in 2010 by 1.2 percent to $368 billion, according to the Outsell study.

As the economy has improved, fashion magazines have witnessed a slight return of advertisers even with the digital boom. For the first half, magazines experienced an upswing in ad pages, compared with a disastrous 2009, but they’re still off from 2008. Marie Claire, Harper’s Bazaar, Vanity Fair, Cosmopolitan, InStyle, Vogue, Allure, Elle and Lucky were all up in ad pages for the first half, with gains ranging from 2 to 22 percent, according to Media Industry Newsletter.

Magazines continue to benefit from the fact that even though online ads tend to be much cheaper than print ones, users tend to ignore banners and cancel pop-up ads, finding them intrusive and disruptive — while a print ad tends to be noticeable. Fashion advertisers would prefer to take over the whole screen with their imagery, but readers would obviously get annoyed. That’s why fashion magazine publishers are greeting the iPad and its fellow e-readers with acclaim since beautiful images and videos (although iPads don’t support videos in the Flash format) translate well to this new medium, say advertising pros.

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