Thick fashion magazines are so last year

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The September issues of fashion magazines are usually nice and bold, brimming with new looks for the cold weather. This year, some are almost as skinny as the models inside.

Behind the relatively svelte issues are newly frugal fashion advertisers, cutting budgets during the recession and experimenting with using more advertising dollars on the web.

High-end fashion brands such as Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Emporio Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Prada still buy ads in the glossy pages of Vogue and W from Condé Nast, Elle from Hachette Filipacchi, Time Warnerit is

Hearst’s InStyle and Harper’s Bazaar. But most of the September issues, which started hitting newsstands last week, are almost a third thinner than last year’s batch.

Magazine advertising sales are down, as evidenced by the shrinking size of fashion magazines.

Joe Schram/The Wall Street Journal

Ad pages in Vogue fell 36% to 429. That’s a far cry from 2007, when Vogue touted its September issue as a record among mainstream monthly magazines, with a total of 840 pages – of which 727 ads – and weighing in at 4 pounds, 9 ounces.

As they spend less on magazines, fashion companies are cautiously testing a range of lower-cost, often more measurable outlets. These include social messaging site Twitter, Google video site YouTube, electronic fashion and culture newsletter DailyCandy.com, and Glam Media, an internet property for women. They’re reallocating some of their marketing dollars to buying space in new features on magazine websites, like a shopping tool on Condé Nast’s Style.com launching during New York Fashion Week in September. .

This is a noticeable change, albeit timid and difficult. For years, fashion advertisers resisted digital marketing. According to Shenan Reed, CEO and founder of Morpheus Media, a New York-based digital advertising agency that works with brands including Louis Vuitton, Michael Kors, Armani and Diane von Furstenberg.

“They’ve been stuck in the Victorian era and the industrial age for some time. Times were good the last two years, and marketers were struggling with the need to go online,” says Milton Pedraza, chief executive. of Luxury Institute, a New York-based consumer research firm. “Now it is an absolute necessity.”

Data from WPP’s advertising tracking company, TNS Media Intelligence, shows a significant increase in advertising spend by fashion marketers on the web. Louis Vuitton North America more than doubled its digital ad spend in 2008 to $286,000 from $107,000 in 2007, TNS reports. Diane von Furstenberg increased her web spend from nothing to $43,000 last year.

It doesn’t amount to much yet, but it represents one of the few slices of the industry’s marketing budget that are expanding. Additionally, the data tracks spending on display ads, but not other types of digital ads, such as search and online video, and it does not take into account the cost of building a website.

“These are advertisers where luxury, perfection and style are first and foremost. The web experience was pretty cluttered. Now that there are bigger screens on desks, high definition, beautiful videos in real time, iPhone apps that look good, aesthetics have gotten to a place that interests them,” says Drew Schutte, senior vice president and chief revenue officer of Condé Nast Digital, which is trying to increase the number of ad packages it sells, including both print and digital ads Condé Nast is a unit of Advance Publications.

It was only recently that big brands such as Prada built sites that displayed more than just an image; buying digital ads to send consumers to these sites was unnecessary. Now that sites are more robust, with e-commerce, news and video options, brands are buying online ads to drive traffic there. Several print ads in the pages of fashion magazines also direct consumers to their websites.

“Online is now seen as an investment. They’re not just throwing money at a channel they don’t know,” says Federico Marchetti, founder of Yoox Group, which designs websites and online marketing campaigns for brands like Emporio. Armani, Dolce & Gabbana and Emilio Pucci.

To capture some of the dollars poured into the web, traditional magazine companies are introducing new features. The e-commerce initiative launched on Condé Nast’s Style.com in September allows users to shop for the trends they see on the runway. Net-A-Porter, Nine West, Neiman Marcus and New York & Co. are all advertising on the site at launch.

“With limited marketing funds, we thought this was a smart and thoughtful way to build brand awareness for our business,” says Celia Rao Visconti, director of marketing at New York & Co., which just started marketing online this year.

Others have started experimenting with social media. Chanel posted a short film on YouTube, featuring French actress Audrey Tautou, and promoted the video with search ads and other announcements on the site. Other fashion brands draw significant crowds on Twitter. Louis Vuitton, which has more than 26,000 followers, provides information about new products and events on its Twitter feed.

The question now is whether this is all recessionary fad or a lasting trend. Joe Lagani, vice president of Glam.com, says it’s more than a blip.

“It’s hard to keep people on the farm once they’ve seen the big city,” he says.

Write to Emily Steel at [email protected]

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