NEW YORK — Magazines are no longer the marketing monoliths they’ve long been for fashion brands.

That’s in part because the ongoing fragmentation of the media and their audience has contributed to a decline in the amount of time Americans are spending reading magazines.

Between 1998 and 2003, the time devoted to reading magazines annually fell by an average of 13 hours per person, to 121 hours, or two and a half hours a week, and it’s projected to fall another 11 hours between 2003 and 2008, according to the recently published Veronis Suhler Stevenson Communications Industry Forecast. By comparison, the time people spent using the Internet surged 138 hours per person, on average, to 176 hours, or three and two-thirds hours a week, between 1998 and 2003, and this is predicted to rise another 60 hours between 2003 and 2008, while the time they devoted to watching TV increased an average of 193 hours to 1,745 hours, or 36 and two-thirds hours a week, between 1998 and 2003; this time is expected to climb an additional 186 hours between 2003 and 2008.

That means in the past half-dozen years, people have been spending an average of 40 hours a week online and watching TV compared with just two and a half hours reading magazines. By 2008, the picture is expected to move farther in that direction, with people projected to spend an average of 49 hours a week online and watching TV versus just two and a quarter hours with magazines.

With the time people devote to reading magazines seen sliding further over the next five years as engagement with other media ascends, marketing executives and brand consultants have advised that it has become essential for fashion brands to start building marketing platforms on a broader media mix. However, in the first five months of 2004, apparel and accessories marketers allocated a bigger share of their media budgets to magazine advertising than they did in the prior-year period, or 77.6 percent versus 73.1 percent, based on data from TNS Media Intelligence/CMR. That translated to spending of $661.4 million on fashion ads in magazines between January and May, 8.6 percent more than the $609.2 million expended on the print medium a year earlier.Network TV garnered the second biggest share of apparel and accessories ad dollars in the first five months of the year, as fashion marketers invested 6.9 percent of their budgets, or $59 million, marking a 37.8 percent spending decrease from outlays of $95 million a year ago, which at that time represented 11.4 percent of the group’s ad expenditures.

Ranking third was cable TV with a 6.1 percent piece of the apparel and accessories ad dollars, or $51.8 million, down 8.1 percent from $56.4 million, or a 6.8 percent share of the ad budget, between January and May 2003. The Internet snagged the fourth greatest portion of apparel and accessories ad spend at 3.6 percent, which amounted to $30.5 million, up 25 percent from a 2.9 percent share, or $24.4 million.

“Clearly, [fashion marketers] need a wider media mix than print,” advised Neil Kraft, president of KraftWorks. “Some publications, including the women’s magazines, are read as catalogues,” he continued. Kraft’s clients include Calvin Klein Eternity, Playtex, Hanes Hosiery, La Prairie and In Style. “It is more costly to do TV, in general, but you can do a creative TV buy or cable TV,” he said.

And though television may be played out for some marketers, use of the medium by fashion players may pique the imagination of viewers unaccustomed to such forays.

“I don’t think fashion has scratched the surface of its ability to connect with consumers emotionally on-screen,” offered Bob Isherwood, worldwide creative director at Saatchi & Saatchi. “While the 30-second TV spot may be diminishing in importance for marketers of packaged goods, fashion marketers have [yet] to discover its potential for storytelling and creating intimacy,” he maintained. “As screens become more integrated with peoples’ lives — mobile phones and iPods are the bottom-line accessory for any fashionista — we are developing new ways for screen-based content to communicate, elucidate and entertain.”

In fact, cable TV commercials were rated as second most effective among three vehicles with high brand-to-media consonance for fashion advertisers in new research from customer loyalty specialist Brand Keys. Cable TV spots followed cinema ads and ranked ahead of online efforts. High-consonance media are defined as those in which placement of an ad enhances a brand’s awareness, image and a person’s propensity to purchase it.For the Brand-to-Media Consonance study, Brand Keys surveyed 1,500 women ages 21 to 59 in an effort to delineate how brands’ values are elevated or degraded via advertising in various media.

Five vehicles were associated with neutral brand-to-media consonance for fashion brands: fashion magazines, followed by lifestyle magazines, outdoor, network TV and catalogues. Although neutral media neither add to nor take away from a brand’s awareness and image — or a consumer’s tendency to buy it — they can be used to reach a particular audience and achieve a desired media frequency.

Another handful of media scored negative consonance levels — those that detract from brand awareness, image and likelihood of purchasing — with newspapers being the greatest liability. Transit advertising placed second, followed by direct mail and kiosk ads.

Evaluating the brand-to-media consonance data, Brand Keys president Robert Passikoff said, “We’ve found that brands can be hurt by a media choice no matter how accurate the demographics.”

For example, in examining the brand-to-media consonance for fashion ads in 24 magazine titles, Brand Keys found Vogue was a high-consonance brand enhancer for Chanel, neutral for Ralph Lauren and negative for Gap. The New Yorker, in contrast, had high consonance for all three fashion brands, based on the responses of the women surveyed.

Further complicating the scene is a sense of sameness that has set in to both the themes and execution of fashion ads in magazines, dulling distinctions between them and making it difficult for them to win a reader’s interest. A heavy reliance on product images, well-established models and a cadre of oft-used fashion photographers has created an environment characterized by clutter and a dearth of inspiration, marketing executives and brand consultants observed.

As a result, few fashion ads in magazines are making an emotional connection with people, or are surprising or intriguing them, observers posited.

“It’s as if they’ve all come from the same place — and in a sense they have,” Isherwood asserted. “With so much fashion marketing done in-house, creativity has been given over to photographers and models,” he continued. “Rarely does a fashion ad have an idea that makes a real emotional connection.”Indeed, it has become increasingly difficult to separate the identities of the reams of apparel brands marketed in fashion magazines, observed brand-image guru Marc Gobe, among others. “Fashion brands are about newness, imagination and renewal,” said Gobe, who is president, chief executive officer and executive creative director of brand-image creation firm desgrippes/gobe. Yet these ads, Gobe added, are focusing on themes of beauty and sexiness in a repetitive manner that has limited their appeal to the dreams and aspirations of the 21st-century consumer.

In fact, in this environment it has become harder to distinguish images seen in magazine ads from those portrayed in catalogues or store windows, a phenomenon Richard Kirschenbaum, co-chairman of Kirschenbaum, Bond & Partners, chalked up to a herd mentality that’s reflected in the focus on predictable product images. “People expect more from brands today,” Kirschenbaum said. “It’s more like a relationship they might have with a person. Fashion companies still need to surprise and delight consumers.”

Fashion marketers credited for compelling advertising in fashion magazines include Ralph Lauren, Coach, David Yurman, Abercrombie & Fitch and Target. “The effectiveness of print ads rests mostly on brand values,” said Passikoff, who listed Lauren and A&F as successes in that regard. A&F ads, he noted, suggest establishment style with a hipper twist; a well-dressed rebel. “It’s the conveyance of an attitude more than a product,” Passikoff added.

A few factors underpin the fashion industry’s persistent preference for print ads in fashion magazines, including:

  • A sense of inertia based on the platform’s longtime status as the foundation for apparel marketing campaigns.

  • The placement of an ad in an editorial environment known to draw people passionate about style — and meet the expectations of retail clients for marketing support.

  • A desire on the part of fashion brand executives to go head-to-head with their competitors, who continue to rely heavily on the medium.
“There’s a vanity factor for fashion marketers who want to live in the same world and play on the same field as their competition,” noted Jill Glover, president and executive creative director of Glover Group, whose clients include Eileen Fisher and Joseph Abboud.That persistence is further founded in magazine readers dedicated to fashion. “The [marketing] purpose of any media is to provide the commercial support of a captive audience that would be receptive, like the fashion enthusiasts who buy fashion magazines,” Gobe stated. Still, Gobe, among others, noted that fashion ads in magazines need to evolve and be integrated with other platforms, like calls to action online, such as the invitation in Gap’s Sarah Jessica Parker print ads to visit for ideas and inspiration. “They can’t just be a passive color photograph,” he emphasized.

Consonance LevelChanelRalph LaurenGap
High brand-to-magazine consonanceEsquireVanity FairNew York Magazine
 The New YorkerEllePeople
 Harper’s BazaarGQInside
 AllureNew York MagazineCosmopolitan
Neutral brand-to-magazine consonanceRedbookInsideGlamour
 ElleCosmopolitanVanity Fair
 Vanity FairGlamourLucky
 GQVogueMarie Claire
 PlayboyTimeIn Style
 New York MagazineNewsweekTime
 Marie ClairePeopleMaxim
Negative brand-to-magazine consonanceCosmopolitanRedbookHarper’s Bazaar
Source: Brand Keys Brand-to-Media Consonance study, August 2004

Among three fashion brands studied to gauge the effectiveness of their ads in 24 magazines, Gap found high brand-to-media consonance in the largest number of titles, 10, versus six for Ralph Lauren and five for Chanel. Above, some of the findings.

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