Commentary

3 Reasons Why Fashion Brands Still Advertise in Print

Spending by fashion brands on print advertising has plunged in the past decade and shows no sign of rebounding before the next recession brings more crushing loss and despair. Wait, it gets better.

Brands are still finding reasons to buy ads in magazines, even as digital rivals like Instagram transform the fashion industry, as Business of Fashion columnist Amy Odell explains in a recent post.

Those reasons include the failure of digital media to provide an adequate substitute for print, the cultural credibility of magazine brands and the undervaluing of digital platforms by publishers themselves.

That’s reason for hope among the major secular shifts in consumer habits. Smartphone-happy Americans spent 3.3% of their media consumption time on print products, compared with 44.4% on digital media, Odell notes.

Magazine ad spending among the 50 biggest advertisers fell 6.4% to $6.1 billion in 2017 from the prior year, according to a WWD analysis of the latest available data from the Association of Magazine Media. The launch of 134 magazines more than offset the closure of 50 titles, leaving the number of magazines at 7,176 in 2017.

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Major fashion brands cut spending as follows: LVMH Möet Hennessy Louis Vuitton down 6.7% to $216.3 million, Kering down 7.2% to $97.2 million and Chanel down 10% to $67.4 million. Calvin Klein is abandoning print advertising, and Diane von Furstenberg didn’t run any print ads this season, Business of Fashion notes.

Meanwhile, social influencers have come to rival magazines in their power to drive trends. A survey by ecommerce platform Rakuten found that 87% of consumers have been “inspired to make a purchase based on what they saw from an influencer,” while 41% said they find at least one new brand or product from an influencer every week.

Still, magazines have advantages, such as visual appeal. Fashion spreads look much better in print than on a tiny smartphone screen, which average about 5.5 inches measured diagonally, according to market researcher NPD.

“For brands investing in the world’s best stylists, photographers, models and art directors in order to create imagery that targets high-income consumers, the controlled environment of print remains appealing,” BOF notes.

That’s true. While social-media platforms love the abundance of free, user-generated content, they also have trouble controlling the proliferation of hate speech, child porn and terrorist propaganda that indirectly receive sponsorship support. Google’s YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have repeatedly failed to clean up their platforms from disturbing content.

Editorial judgment gives magazines more credibility, and generates the kind of positive associations brands want. As Odell notes, Vogue’s exclusive cover story in March on Justin and Hailey Bieber’s marriage generated buzz and a social-media frenzy, Harper’s Bazaar got loads of attention for its spread featuring rapper Cardi B and Vanity Fair earned mileage out of its story on Beto O’Rourke’s presidential run.

Print publishers have tended to diminish the value of their digital products by packaging them as free add-ons to their print inventory.

“The perceptional issues publishers created around their own digital products remains a problem. And if anyone understands the power of perception, it’s people who work at fashion labels.”

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