Simon Dumenco is not a lazy columnist. But even the most avid columnist has
an off week, when he simply can’t think of anything to write about. The worst
solution to this problem is the "I can’t think of anything to write about"
column. The second-worst solution to this problem is the knee-jerk "X will
be killed by the internet" column, where X can be anything from TV news
to your neighborhood grocer. In Dumenco’s weak
effort this week, X is glossy fashion magazines.
Obviously, new media is not the most obvious candidate for giant-killer in
this particular case: Vogue and its ilk have only been getting fatter and fatter
of late, more or less in line with the extent of internet penetration among
the mag-reading demographic. But Dumenco sees disaster in his crystal ball:
But inevitably, fashion advertisers that prop up the glossies will, like
everyone else, increasingly migrate to Web and mobile interactive advertising.
And here’s why: Google’s emphasis on text-only ads notwithstanding,
we’re all increasingly seeing incredibly cool, sophisticated, Flash-animated
and even streaming ads that actually don’t crash our Web browsers. (What
used to not usually work … now usually works.) Suddenly it’s entirely
conceivable that say, Diesel could find the right combination of interactive
advertising — animated Web spots, sponsored mobisodes, etc. — that would
not only give it the same aura of cool it used to get from its perversely
witty glossy ads, but would be more cost-effective and truly measurable in
a way that print will never be. (Diesel has already created one static ad
that appears only online, at ZooZoom.com.)
Can you just feel Dumenco desperately trying to hit his wordcount
here? There’s more extraneous verbiage in this paragraph than in an average
Lewis Lapham essay. The gallimaufry serves two purposes: to fill column inches,
but also to distract from the fact that the substantive point he’s making is,
Dumenco is quite right when he says that fashion brands rely on advertising
in fashion magazines: "The brands are the print ads, and vice
versa." But he misses the bigger picture. If someone is going to drop $10,000
on a Prada frock, it certainly helps if the Prada brand has been suitably pumped
up for her by print ads and by Prada presence in the editorial pages. But it
also helps if she’s been convinced that the entire high-fashion edifice is something
fabulous and valuable. And for that one needs the glossy magazines.
Individual fashion houses can drive demand for individual brands. But to drive
demand for fashion in the first place requires a large number of glossy magazines
being published month in and month out, each reinforcing the others’ message
that Fashion Is Good. Websites might respond to demand for fashion content,
but they’re never about to create it. And no one knows that better than the
fashion houses whose entire industry is largely a creation of the very magazines
in which they advertise.
Fashion advertising is unlike most advertising in that it only obliquely attempts
to get a consumer to buy a product. Perfume ads sell perfume, of course, but
ultimately Chanel fashion ads are more for selling perfume than they are for
selling fashion. The key is to get the brand buzzing among the people who matter
– editors high up on magazines’ mastheads, and maybe a handful of department-store
buyers. After them, it helps if various fashion-industry insiders get it too.
So you use trendy and expensive models, buy enormous swathes of Italian Vogue,
and generally ignore the end consumer. Why do you think that there are so many
tiny fashion magazines? It’s two reasons: firstly, an ad in a tiny magazine,
if it’s read by the right people, can have much the same practical effect as
an ad in a major Condé Nast glossy. And secondly, these magazines more
or less give their ad pages away to major advertisers, because the mere presence
of a big name on the back cover can give the magazine buzz and legitimacy. Eventually,
the magazine can grow up into an Another Magazine or Zing: small by Condé
standards, but still successful enough to sustain itself.
But websites don’t work like that. For one thing, fashionistas are notoriously
computer-illiterate. If you want to reach them, you have to stick to print.
But in any case there’s nowhere you can advertise online which has the punch
and power of a print ad. Dumenco’s ZooZoom example actually works against him
if you try to find the ad he’s talking about: the website is horribly designed,
almost impossible to navigate, resizes your browser window, and has no permalinks.
Even if a fashionista did see an ad or an editorial shoot they liked, they would
find it impossible to send that story to a colleague. And there’s certainly
no easy way of ripping an image out and putting it in a clipping book somewhere.
Just look at the Diesel ad that Dumenco’s talking about: the reason it appears
only online is that it’s crap. In fact, the only interesting thing about is
that it’s online. So long as fashion advertisers’ idea of an online ad is basically
taking a print ad, scanning it, and putting it on the web, online fasion advertising
will continue to be irrelevant. And I don’t know about you, but I’m not "increasingly
seeing incredibly cool, sophisticated, Flash-animated" ads, either, be
they for fashion products or anything else. In fact, I can comfortably say that
I’ve never seen a Flash-animated ad which was "incredibly cool".
Dumenco finishes by bringing up the evil spectre of Lucky, the shopping mag.
Apparently it has, ahem, "set the entire industry up for a fall by converting
the formerly immersive magazine-reading experience into a distracted browse
that’s just begging for transactionality." In other words, Lucky
readers are looking for shopping ideas, and it’s easier to shop from a website
than it is to shop from a magazine.
Well, maybe, if and when a website ever manages to come up with a browsing
experience as navigable and pleasurable as flicking through a magazine. Remember
that websites give you things you didn’t know you wanted – it’s hard to
design a website which can do the same thing. But in any case, Vogue is not
Lucky without the transactionality. Vogue sells millions of copies. Its readers
are not women who want to know what $10,000 frock to buy, but rather women who
like the aspirational frisson of reading a magazine which purports to assume
that its readers all buy $10,000 frocks. Lucky isn’t a glossy fashion mag; Vogue
is. And high-end fashion advertisers will continue to support it because it
supports them. And because a double-page spread in Vogue is a very seductive
thing. Much more seductive than any mobisode.