Architectural Digest’s ‘Clever’ vertical relaunches with a big focus on e-commerce
Conde Nast’s Architectural Digest, the venerable shelter magazine that’s celebrating its 100th birthday this year, is today rolling out a relaunch of its Clever vertical that gives e-commerce a major focus.
AD first launched Clever in October 2017 as a dedicated digital brand for 18-to-34 year olds (vs. the 50-plus demo for the main brand). The point was to leverage the magazine’s expertise and reputation to speak to a younger, design-savvy audience that might not be quite ready to use the world-class (and pricey) architects and designers whose work dominates the pages of the print mothership.
Clever’s editorial mission is about sharing “real-life design advice that’s both practical and inspiring,” Amy Astley, AD’s editor-in-chief, tells Ad Age. Now, “After nearly three years of steady growth and engagement—with an increasingly wider readership, from renovating homeowners to redecorating renters—it’s time to take Clever to the next level.” Astley charged Keith Pollock, AD’s executive digital director, with leading the relaunch project.
In addition to a new Shopping channel (more on that in a moment), Clever will be releasing regular digital covers designed for sharing on social media. The first, out today and shown above, features Laura Harrier, who stars in Ryan Murphy’s new Netflix miniseries “Hollywood.” Clever’s also cranking up its renovation coverage with how-to guides (e.g., the upcoming “Everything You Need to Know About Wood Floors”) and adding new areas of focus—including sustainability and wellness—to its Conversation channel.
For a deeper dive into the media strategy behind the new Clever, Ad Age spoke with Pollock. (The conversation below has been lightly edited for length and clarity.)
First, beyond the age difference, how does Clever's audience differ from that of the Architectural Digest print edition?
AD’s print edition speaks to an audience with a deep knowledge of design and of the world’s top design talent. A large segment of our print readership are design insiders. The magazine and the AD digital platform are about access to homes that no one else has and inspiration at the highest level.
Although it’s likely a print reader will also enjoy Clever, we set out to create a brand that was autonomous from AD. There is a shared spirit between the two brands, in terms of the varied design styles that inspire us, but the approach is entirely different.
People come to Clever for actionable service. They’re embarking on their first home renovation, they’re shopping for home decor. They’re looking for practical tips and “news they can use,” as Amy says. The Clever reader appreciates a well-designed home, but they have questions about how to attain it.
Thus the new emphasis on “how to” and dedicated guides.
Yes. The content strategy is instructional with a more approachable voice. Clever is not about speaking to designers, it’s about homeowners taking matters into their own hands. We use the term DIY: design it yourself. On Clever, we are empowering our readers to use our guides and tools to create a home that has an individual point of view.
Tell us about the new e-commerce focus.
We’ve seen 80 percent growth in click-through to affiliate sites, year over year. In an effort to add more value and service, we wanted to enhance the e-commerce experience and make it more of a clear focus. E-commerce will be layered into all of our articles, but we’re also launching a new channel dedicated entirely to shopping content. If you want to come to Clever and just go down a shopping wormhole, you can.
What’s the thinking behind the digital covers for Clever?
It’s another opportunity to show that AD and Clever are very distinct brands with very different aesthetics and expressions of what a “cover” can be. AD does the celebrity home tour better than anyone. So for Clever’s first cover, we really had to focus on finding someone who embodies the individuality and spirit of the brand. We are excited to launch with Laura Harrier, because, while we’re really impressed by the projects she has coming up, her home, her aesthetic and her story are what spoke to us.
A digital cover is a tentpole opportunity for a digital brand. I think of it more like a campaign with multiple facets to it: a video, a social media plan. It’s creating a bigger moment than just a singular article. A digital cover for Clever could be a celebrity, but it could also be a large package around wellness at home or sustainable design.
Back to shopping for a moment. Give us a sense of the POV of the new shopping channel.
Shopping content has always been a big part of Clever’s strategy. Every year, we do really creative, art-directed holiday gift guides and the Cleverest Awards—50 products that are the perfect blend of form and function. With the relaunch it was important to give shopping more visibility and to refine our approach. We have thousands of affiliate relationships. Ultimately we want to sift through all of the noise to bring you the things we love—whether it’s purely from an aesthetic POV or from personal experience. Expect to see new single-product reviews from our editors, as well as giant, satisfying round-ups of furniture and decor.
Any plans to make Clever a proper retail brand?
Last year we collaborated with Urban Outfitters and launched a line of products with some of our favorite designers and makers. It was a big success and many of the pieces sold out overnight. We’re talking now about a Clever branded product line. Our aesthetic is quite unique, and we’re excited about the idea of being able to have a hand in products our readers would love.
One last question: How does the strategy for Clever fit into the home-centric “new normal”? Have you course-corrected this relaunch as the pandemic changed, well, everything?
With our relaunch, we’ve committed to producing more content about wellness at home in our revamped Conversation channel. At this moment, we’re tackling topics we probably wouldn’t have considered a few months ago, like advice on how to manage your anxiety while you’re stuck at home, or how to quarantine with a romantic partner. Like most brands, we’re experimenting to see what our audience responds to during this time, and we’ve tapped into an interest in mental and physical health at home.
During the pandemic, big renovation projects have come to a halt, but we believe our readers will never stop dreaming or planning. And we’re also thinking about the projects you can tackle now, like sprucing up your outdoor space and creating a productive WFH set-up.
Home is the center of everyone’s universe right now, and Clever is all about making your home your own, whether those changes are big or small.