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2013 US Advertising Growth Includes Print Magazines Too

According to new data from Kantar Media, US advertising spending for Q2 2013 is up 3.5% over the same period in 2012, to $35.8 billion. Cable TV made the greatest gains, up 14.9%, and Spanish-language TV was up 6.1%. On the other side of roster, newspaper advertising is down 4.3%.

September Magazine Issues

The most interesting news to me, though, is the section on print magazines. Ad revenues for consumer magazines are up 1.9%, although (if you want to quibble over the details) they sold fewer ad pages than last year, each one at a higher average rate. And Sunday magazines, the magazines inside newspapers, grew ad revenues by 4.1% — the same rate by which Internet display ad revenue grew.

Digging into individual titles shows more signs of vitality. The September issue of Vogue is the fattest since 2008 — 665 pages of ads — and the September Elle just broke the record for highest page count ever for a Hearst publication. W, Bon Appetit, Allure, Teen Vogue and Glamour all had their best Septembers since the 2008 financial crisis. The Atlantic, with its diversified approach across print, digital and events, is on a tear.

Who’d a thunk it?

Tumblr Strategy for Brands: Focus on Images

Above: Vogue’s Tumblr, where posted photos regularly receive more than 2000 notes — including reblogs, Likes and comments.

From Ragan.com’s Essential Guide for Brands on Tumblr, which counsels brands to focus on images:

This goes for all social platforms… keep your copy short and let the images and links do your talking. If this is too daunting, or if you don’t have the type of content that would fit this approach, you may want to rethink whether Tumblr’s the best medium for you to reach your fans.

See also Target’s use of Tumblr to support limited-time social media events such as its recent pop-up store to support the launch of the Missoni line.

(Via David Veneski.)

Advertising as Curation

I’ve had a few conversations over the past 2 weeks with a collection of industry friends about the shittiness of online ads. They’re generally shitty in one of two ways.

The cool, custom units that please consumers because they’re well-integrated with the content experience are shitty for publishers and advertisers because they aren’t standardized, thus they cost too much to produce, and they aren’t easily reusable on other publishers’ sites or for other advertisers’ campaigns.

And the standard units — the IAB’s various display rectangles — are shitty for consumers because they’re designed to interrupt a reader’s content experience and convince him or her to click somewhere else. Reuters’ Felix Salmon says we’ve brought this variation of shittiness upon ourselves: “Because it’s so easy to measure things like impressions and click-through rates, the online ad industry has missed the real power that advertising can have…. It’s the measurement fallacy: people tend to think that what they can measure is what they want, just because they can measure it.”

Too often online ads are either pitching an impulse buy or they’re custom sponsorships cuddling up next to great content in hopes that “adjacency” will transfer some of the content’s goodness to the sponsor’s brand. Salmon points out, though, that advertising can succeed without either. If an ad becomes a self-contained media experience in itself, ad unit as mini media, then it doesn’t need as much help from the publisher to accomplish its goal.

Leaf through a glossy fashion magazine like Vogue, and you’ll find dozens of pages of ads at the front of the book, with basically zero editorial content to break them up. If advertisers thought that readers only looked at ads insofar as they were adjacent to editorial, then they would ask for placement opposite editorial. But that’s not what happens: the ads all cluster at the front, the editorial gets relegated to the back, and readers spend more time looking at ads than they do looking at editorial features. In fact, the most avid readers of the editorial shoots are the advertisers, who use them for ideas when they’re planning their next campaign.

Vogue is a prime example of the power of advertising: if, as an advertiser, you know how to give people something they want, then you don’t need to rely on second-best stratagems like adjacency. And no one ever clicked on an ad in Vogue. Which is one reason why Gawker’s former ad chief Chris Batty once proposed that all ads on Gawker Media should be images only, and not clickable at all — it would force advertisers to create something good, instead of chasing after clicks from idiots.

We’ve spent the past 15 years arguing over the size and shapes of banner ads and the click-through rates they generate, and this has distracted us from the hard work of filling the space with good story-telling, good entertainment, good content that happens to be published by a brand. Many advertisers have given this approach a whirl. Noah Brier at Percolate calls out a few brands — Amex with their OPEN Forum, and Redbull — that have emerged as persistent, credible web publishers in their own right. But it’s a big investment and has mostly ended in failure: “Microsites were probably the best example of [the wrong way to do it]: Buy a bunch of advertising, drive people to a new .com, stop advertising, stop getting traffic, tear the site down, repeat.”

Brier and Salmon (the former is a Percolate founder and the latter one of its partners) recommend a new approach: Advertising as curation. The argument is, if your customers are using the web to find interesting, relevant content, brands should use the media they buy to serve up links to content those customers might care about. In other words, banners and Facebook Pages that drive customers to other people’s websites — and the brand benefits because consumers associate a sense of gratitude with its name and logo. “Thanks, Coke, for delivering me to this awesome skateboarding video I wouldn’t have found on my own.”

If we’re talking about a brand’s Twitter feed or Facebook Page, where it has already won (or, through advertising, paid for) the right to re-engage with a subset of their customers, I love this approach; it’s easy to send a customer off to that skateboarding video because you can insert your brand into their newsfeed again tomorrow.

It’s a tougher argument to make to content publishers who are still trying to make a living from banner ads of one type or another. Hey, Coke, I want you to pay for some real-estate on my site to drive people off to skateboarding videos, and tomorrow I’ll sell you more space to do it again. We still also need find an approach to online advertising that offers the self-contained goodness of a Vogue print ad or a Superbowl spot — advertising that’s so good we don’t mind a little interruption.

As Brands Become Publishers, Publishers Become Retailers

From last week’s NY Times:

Fashionistas who are following the latest runway collections being shown this month have the opportunity, beginning this season, to buy some of those looks, from designers like Diane von Furstenberg, Marc Jacobs and Derek Lam, right from the Web site of Vogue magazine…. Fashion magazines are suddenly getting into the retailing business.

Some high-end retailers aren’t thrilled to see competition coming from the media partners who cash their advertising checks.

But, hey, wait a second. Haven’t brands themselves spent the past five years — especially as they venture into social media — trying to reinvent themselves as content publishers? When I was at Federated Media we described our “conversational marketing” services as exactly that — “we work with brands to create media” and “brands must become publishers.” The NY Times suggests that the practice is now mainstream:

Mr. Granger [Esquire's editor-in-chief] said that many magazines were making similar moves because retailers were starting to move in on their turf. The new Barneys catalogs, photographed by big names like Juergen Teller, look more like an issue of W, with clothes shown on New York celebrities, and shopping online at Net-a-Porter looks more like flipping through the pages of Harper’s Bazaar.

It’s very hard, even for an experienced magazine publisher, to do what Vogue does. Just like it’s really really hard, even for a veteran retailer, to knock Barney’s off the block. The odds are slim that Conde Nast will dominate high-end retail any time soon, or that we’ll cancel our subscriptions to W because Nieman Marcus catalog has displaced it.

So I love to see both sides adding to the competitive fray — publishers trying to be retailers, and brands trying to be publishers. Increased competition usually leads to innovation. Maybe, in their efforts, some publisher’s will lose their editorial credibility (and then their audiences and then their ad support), and that would be sad. But I think it’s more likely that publishers like Vogue, Esquire and Style.com understand that it would be suicide to pimp out their editorial credibility, and so they’ll find a way to execute these new ad partnerships without losing their souls. Maybe they’ll even find a new business model that supports quality digital publishing.

(Disclosures: My employer, Luminate, is a company dedicated to making images interactive. Publishers use our image-applications platform to provide their end users with apps that enhance images with relevant content and services. One of the applications lets users scroll through products in the picture, and click out to a retailer if they’re in a buying mood.)

Conde Nast Will Charge More for Print and Online Content

When I saw yesterday that Conde Nast plans to increase the rates it charges readers of its magazines and websites because, according to CEO Charles Townsend,

“We have been so overtly dependent on advertising as the turbine that runs this place, and that is a very, very risky model as we emerge from the recession,”

my first thought was: Oh come on. There have been plenty of recessions and one Great Depression since Conde Nast began a publishing empire built around ad-supported magazines, starting with Vogue and Vanity Fair (which in 1915 ran more ad pages than any other US magazine). I thought here’s another traditional publisher that’s preparing its audience for a post-Internet iPad paradise where readers will pay for their digital content.

My second thought was: Maybe, but so what. Conde Nast should have raised subscription and newsstand rates ages ago. When Henry Luce launched Fortune Magazine in 1930, he charged $1 per issue at a time when the Sunday New York Times cost $0.05. The whole point (according to Alan Brinkley’s telling in his Luce biography The Publisher) was to weed out the riff-raff who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay such an insanely high price for a copy of magazine, and then to make a mint selling advertising against such an upscale audience.

Fortune Magazine Cover February 1930

Whether or not the content-is-free culture of the Internet gives way to an I’ll-pay-for-the-premium-stuff future, Conde Nast should raise rates for their magazines. Vogue, Vanity Fair, Glamour and GQ readers aren’t highly price sensitive. And besides, the advertising pitch gets better when your readership is limited only to those with lots of disposable income.