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The world is online — yet fashion brands are still reluctant to advertise there.
This story first appeared in the June 22, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
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.
The iPad offers the best of both worlds — a digital device that can mirror the appearance and experience of reading a print magazine and, with Internet access, can provide links to the social network phenomenon that is obsessing fashion brands.
“Every client who walks through our door is essentially yelling, ‘Facebook,’” said Neil Kraft, president of Kraftworks. “They want the Web, but don’t know how to use it. What happens with social media is much more of an investment of the client’s time. They have to invest in people [to manage it].”
Echoing others, Kraft said the rush to the Web reminds him of when outdoor advertising began, and everyone thought advertisers would abandon print. “You still can’t replace the look and feel of a print ad,” said Kraft.
“Fashion magazines are one of the few places where the ads are just as important as the editorial,” said Kyle Acquistapace, executive vice president of media planning at Deutsch Los Angeles. “Even though a consumer can see an entire runway show online, curation matters. That’s why magazines are important. Fashion [magazines] are about telling me what matters and giving me a point of view.”
He pointed out that current industry formats for online fashion ads “don’t allow for overwhelming beauty.” However, he believes the iPad is bound to change that.
“GQ has never looked more beautiful [than on an iPad]. It’s like looking at PDFs of the magazine. It definitely ups the game, but you can’t share an article and post it onto a social network. There are rights issues.”
He believes fashion brands need to be advertised in many different places. “More has to be brought to the party to stay relevant. Things feel important when people see them in a lot of places. Anybody who has a one-dimensional approach to marketing” will be in trouble, he said.
According to media and consumer research firm GfK MRI, the audience is up for magazines, so it’s a case of readers gravitating toward both the Web and print, versus the Web or print, said Edward Menicheschi, publisher of Vanity Fair. Total adult readership of print magazines and newspapers increased about 1 percent this spring versus spring 2009, said GfK MRI.
Fashion advertisers that run buys on vf.com include Banana Republic, Bloomingdale’s, Bulgari, Ralph Lauren, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry and St. John. “Each of these is an important print spender so the Web is an addition,” said Menicheschi, who noted that most brands’ stated goal is to make their e-commerce Web site their number-one door.
“On the social media side, there is real activity from brand to brand in Twitter and Facebook, but there is not hard data as yet on if these efforts are generating sales. That said, there is a great deal of experimentation and audiences being built such as Burberry’s Art of the Trench,” he said. “I think it is really about being relevant to the consumer across media that they find of real value. Print has real value to consumers, but so does mobile. The key is to find a manner and message that is correct (and on brand) at each touch point,” he said.
Where one stands on the digital issue is clearly a generational thing.
“Who’s running 90 percent of fashion companies?” asked Kraft. “It’s people in their 50s and 60s.” Historically, fashion advertisers, whether it be Chanel, Prada or Calvin Klein, worried about the size of their print ads, their inserts and positioning. That’s been the conversation for years, and it’s a tough one to abandon.
“I think the one thing people tend to be most sure of is the younger generation has completely checked out of print,” said Doug Lloyd, owner of Lloyd & Co., the ad agency. “If the demographic is tweens to college age, there’s no way around it,” said Lloyd, referring to the necessity to be online with ads. For the new Selena Gomez line of clothing for Kmart, he’s using a combination of print, outdoor, broadcast-cable TV and a digital plan and social networking aspect.
After such a tough 2009 for all kinds of advertising, a lot of brands dropped out of advertising altogether, he said. Many brands shifted to the p.r. bucket, and social media may have fallen under that. “Social marketing is a great medium, but it’s less easily controlled. Fashion brands usually are strict about trying to control their image. It’s more of a wild card,” said Lloyd.
That leads to another problem facing fashion advertisers: giving up control. By engaging in social media, brands put their reputations and images on the line, risking potential controversy in hopes of entertaining, provoking and informing their followers.
“Big fashion companies are scared to death to lose control,” said Madonna Badger, partner in Badger and Winters Group, an ad agency. “Most people accept the fact they don’t have any control [online]. The more they try and control it, the more irrelevant they become.”
Badger’s agency developed an online, viral video campaign for client Make Up For Ever, shot by Douglas Keeve, which resulted in a 1,000 percent increase in Facebook fans in two weeks, with total impressions for the campaign reaching 31.2 million. Average users spent 51.6 seconds on the Make Up For Ever site. The campaign included media banners, a live Twitter feed and a Facebook fan button.
“Part of my issue with online advertising is if there’s no call to action, it’s ineffective,” said Badger. She said online ads need to offer a type of engagement, such as through a contest or a questionnaire. “Otherwise, you’re treating it like a print ad. It’s important to have SISMO (sight, sound and motion.) The whole idea is you have to use the Web for all its interactive capabilities. We’re all struggling with how to use this new medium. My experience is the more we engage [the customer] through her senses, that’s the way the Web is meant to be used,” she said.
Lipman pointed out that some companies tried to brand their firms in the dot-com world with no emotional connection, nor understanding of the brand. “The key is the holistic weaving of the message from traditional media to new media. The message has to be consistent and could be custom for each medium,” said Lipman. He agrees that the iPad may soon change everything. Macy’s, for example, placed digital ads in several iPad versions of magazines such as Marie Claire and Redbook. When a reader clicks on the ad, Macy’s summer catalogue opens.
“With the iPad, you can tap on it, and it comes to life, and it will tell the customer where you can buy it and you can go deeper into the collection. For the consumer, the narrative is really intriguing. You can tell a story about the product,” said Lipman.
While social media can stimulate conversation about a fashion brand, to what extent online ads actually help sell merchandise continues to be a matter of debate. Charles DeCaro, partner in Laspata/DeCaro, said clients are interested in the new technology, but the jury’s still out on online’s advertising effectiveness. “Clients are absolutely interested in every new technology. It [online advertising] hasn’t proven itself to all the hype it will ultimately deliver. If there’s a return, you forge ahead. I am the first person to hit the close button when an ad pops up. It’s extremely annoying and I find it to be overloaded with clutter. I buy from the Web and I research from the Web, but in terms of getting a return on investment, it’s yet to be proven,” said DeCaro.
Laspata/DeCaro did a “before and after” online video for retailer Ulta Beauty, which was associated with a print campaign. “We asked readers to visit Ulta’s Web site, and it proved to be very successful,” he said. Readers were invited to partake if they wanted to. Print ads ran in magazines such as Allure, Teen Vogue, Vanity Fair, InStyle, Glamour and Marie Claire.
Despite all the hype surrounding the Web, some advertising execs pointed out that the Internet runs counter to what fashion brands are all about.
“A lot of what the fashion world is about is trying to create a brand and image, but it’s not as easy to make the transition online,” said Ellis Verdi, president of DeVito/Verdi, the ad agency. “The Internet is all about pull. It’s what you want to see. You’re in control and it’s not interruptive. Fashion is still living in a world that’s interruptive. That works in print, but is not as effective on the Internet.
“The fashion world is not known for delivering ideas in advertising, just visuals. If your ad has an idea, such as Kenneth Cole, and you can use language, you can pull people in more,” he said. Verdi believes that retailers, who usually have more of an idea and immediacy to their advertising, can “more effectively use the Internet for back-to-school and promotions.”
Sam Shahid, partner in Shahid & Co., thinks all this new technology takes getting used to, but little by little, it will transform the concept of advertising and media. He said his client, Abercrombie & Fitch, is showing movies on Facebook that are seen by a million people. And the iPad brings a new creative interest. “It [the screen] is big, it’s beautifully designed, and all of a sudden, we’re seeing it. Print media will have a hard time now,” he said.
As far as having an app for Abercrombie, he said, “It’s very fashionable to be there. You tap the photo and it becomes alive with voice and sound. Millions of people are looking at it, and it’s not $200,000. A magazine can cost you $200,000 for four weeks [on the newsstand], and you don’t even know who’s looking at it,” said Shahid. “It’s changing the way we’re looking at advertising. You can show one image in a magazine, or you can show 100 images online.”