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Fashion Marketers See Good-Looking Ad Options Online

Style Sites' Inventory makes Advertisers Rethink Long-Held Allegiance to Print

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Fashion advertising has provided perhaps the warmest haven for print publishers so far in the digital age, but the proliferation and steady improvement of fashion websites is starting to test the category's traditional media mix.
The New York Times built a site for luxury advertisers.
The New York Times built a site for luxury advertisers.

Print fashion power Condé Nast Publications keeps enhancing its popular Style.com and Men.Style.com as it tries to fend off players such as Glam and Fashionista that have entered the game more recently. There's also competition from McEye Media's ZooZoom, which calls itself the "the original online glossy" and was the first fashion site to offer full-screen ads.

Now The New York Times is developing a sophisticated site for T: The New York Times Style Magazine. If it achieves what Times executives hope when it goes live in December, fashion marketers will have one more reason to rethink their allegiance to print.

Diving in
"There aren't that many vehicles where you could make an interesting splash with a fashion ad online," said Horacio Silva, features director and online director at T, whose print frequency has grown to 15 issues a year since its introduction in August 2004.

"The inventory's been so limited and antediluvian," Mr. Silva said, "which is why we thought it was really important to develop not only novel approaches to how we present editorial online but also the ad inventory."

That's a partisan take, but hardly a controversial one. The lush, controlled environment offered by print has kept nearly all fashion magazines growing while titles about business, current events and the home struggle to increase ad sales. Through September, ad pages are up 13.9% at Harper's Bazaar, 12.6% at W, 9.9% at Elle and 7.5% at Vogue, according to the Media Industry Newsletter. Monthlies as a whole eked out a gain of just 1.6%.

Online-display-ad spending from apparel and accessories marketers actually declined from 2001, when the web took 2.9% of the category's total ad spend, to 2006, when the web got 1.3%, according to TNS Media Intelligence. The proportion spent in print magazines, on the other hand, rose to 75% last year from 68% in 2001. And Style.com's ad revenue went from $1.5 million in 2004 to $4.6 million in 2006. That is not, to put it gently, the typical dynamic for print and the web.

More vehicles than ever
That's why all kinds of traditional publishers, finding much easier money in fashion than elsewhere, keep creating or expanding vehicles such as People Style Watch, Forbes Life Executive Woman, the Image section in the Los Angeles Times and Time Style & Design, with more coverage and available ad adjacencies from contenders as unlikely as The Wall Street Journal and Working Mother magazine. Don't forget Fortune's special report, "The Business of Luxury," in the Sept. 17 issue arriving on newsstands today.

"We've advised a lot of businesses -- travel, automotive, media -- that they need to change the way they do business and the way the look to conform to the new format for media consumption," said Michael Koziol, exec VP for North America at Nurun, which has handled interactive creative for fashion and luxury marketers including Louis Vuitton and Sofitel resorts. "But I don't believe that applies to luxury brands."
Horacio Silva, features director and online director at T
Horacio Silva, features director and online director at T

Carol Smith, exec VP-group publisher at Elle, said she can't imagine a future when fashion advertisers spend more online than on paper. "Fashion is all about the dream, and you can't get the dream online," she said. "You can shop online, get information online, see a thousand pair of knee boots in various sizes, shapes, whatever, but you can't get the inspiration one gets in a magazine."

But she doesn't feel invulnerable. "I do think websites are doing the right things more and more," Ms. Smith said. Mr. Koziol went even further: "Long term, I don't believe that print can stay the main stage."

In tandem
Donna Karan International, for one, has already made the internet an important part of its marketing. "It's not a question of 'either/or' with print and online advertising," said Patti Cohen, exec VP-global marketing and communications, in an e-mail. "They are both important components of our advertising strategy to create brand awareness and stimulate business."

Another fashion marketer, who asked not to be identified, said the web will be a priority this year. "This is the year you'll see more and more activity in particular from our group online," the executive said. "Print will, for the short term, be the core spend for luxury goods because of the nature of what print is and the nature of what we do. But there is a value from a branding and a sales perspective to be in the right environment online."

"There's been a shift," the executive added, "on the publishing side online as well, where they're starting to make products that make more sense for us."

For the Times and T magazine, making sense meant clean design, elegant navigation among lush visuals and, executives hope, ads that look almost as good as the two-page spread for Gucci in September's W.

'The duvet'
OK -- that would be tough to do. But that's the ambition. "We're calling the large unit that wipes over the whole screen 'the duvet,'" said Seth Rogin, VP for advertising at The Times. "We think it's exciting because it's a different kind of unit than anyone's ever run before. It's not an annoying pop-up or pop-under. It rolls over and then disappears if you wish as soon as you mouse away."

"This isn't necessarily about converting print advertisers to digital," Mr. Rogin added. "It's about expanding the audience in the same way that The New York Times Online has very low duplication with the print product."
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