While Amazon makes its living on the web, it is clearly setting its sights on TV viewers.
According to advertising sales intelligence platform MediaRadar, which tracked retailers from October to November, Wal-Mart spent $119 million (down 10 percent) and Target spent $103 million (up 54 percent) on TV spots. Amazon had the biggest increases in digital advertising as well with its spending up 224 percent compared to the past year. The e-commerce giant eclipsed spending from Macy’s, Sears, Kohl’s, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney.
In its push to promote its fashion segment, Amazon Fashion had a fall TV spot in the U.S., U.K., Germany and Austria with models carrying Amazon boxes to various locations with the tagline “Now Delivering Fashion,” which ran from September through November. In Europe, it tapped Olivia Palermo for an online-only video ad promoting its fashion segment.
But while the ads suggest a more high fashion offering, the positioning is discordant with where Amazon shines — which is in basics and mass-market, low-price apparel.
“Amazon is continuously looking for new streams of revenue and while TV ads are one of the least effective marketing channels for e-commerce brands, they have likely maxed out digital channels,” said Stephanie Horbaczewski, who is chief executive officer and founder of fashion video network StyleHaul. “Given that high fashion is closely associated with print advertising, the choice to use TV alludes to a strategy to build credibility as another retail alternative alongside the likes of Macy’s or Target.”
Indeed, Amazon decreased its print ad spend this season by 10 percent. According to a MediaRadar spokeswoman, in the past, Amazon achieved success without much reliance on traditional TV advertising. This year, however, Amazon placed ads on every major broadcast network and almost every cable channel, a total of 103 outlets in the final weeks of the year, she said. “As Amazon goes completely mainstream, their marketing too has cast the widest possible net.”
While the U.S. commercials didn’t include a celebrity — something that Amazon does not traditionally do — its use of Olivia Palermo overseas is an effort to leverage her socialite, street-style-star quality. In the spring, Amazon EU enlisted The Blonde Salad’s Chiara Ferragni as the brand’s European ambassador and the face of its spring 2016 campaign, after working with Suki Waterhouse.
Changing perceptions of its fashion segment is a challenge, said Toth+Co president Zack Toth. “The influencer campaign is a smart one for them. Fashion is definitely a stretch outside its core capabilities and competencies.” He pointed out that Palermo is also the new face of Banana Republic, which might explain why her segment is not running stateside.
He added that perhaps the U.K. is easier to bridge the divide from mass appeal to luxury, as Amazon “doesn’t have the stigma it has in America.”
“It could have a really great basics or middle market program, but it’s not going to be a high-end luxury fashion destination. Fashion is about trends and Amazon doesn’t have those trend capabilities as part of their brand DNA, but it’s definitely an opportunity to service middle America.”
Toth suggested that Palermo is both well-known and might appeal to the more aspirational customer. “Every human being has an innate desire for finer things, so how do you spark curiosity and engagement and drive an awareness? It will be interesting. Amazon can track analytics and UX and fulfillment, but creating demand in terms of fashion and apparel and trends is a big step for them,” he said.
Still, in a September segment of Amazon’s fashion channel Style Code Live in which Palermo discusses her fashion and beauty advice, she admits the items most likely to be in her Amazon cart are black velvet hangers and inflatable pool toys. Meanwhile, the top apparel brands on Amazon are Hanes, Levi’s, Calvin Klein, Carhartt, Fruit of the Loom, Dickies, Columbia, Champion, Gerber and Rubie’s, according to e-commerce data measurement firm One Click Retail.
“Amazon has struggled with luxury goods. It has been described as the ‘mall of mess’ and its actions to influence and brand policing policies have fallen short — but are getting better,” said One Click Retail managing partner Spencer Millerberg. He said that, like Wal-Mart, Amazon has struggled to move beyond basics in apparel. “Amazon has the brand clout and the funds to make a major departure from Wal-Mart. The investment in TV advertising signals that this is an initiative critical to Amazon, as TV advertising is traditionally reserved exclusively for Jeff Bezos’ pet projects — things like Kindle, Prime and Fire TV.
“The addition of a prominent American socialite further reinforces Amazon’s most recent strategic moves such as making changes to their site, adding increased brand protection and gating, etc. — all positioning them for a better chance at winning the elusive fashion battle,” Millerberg said.