Two weeks ago, Mashable posted an article titled, “7 Stellar Examples of Branded Content from the Fashion Industry.” On Monday, the New York Times published one called, “Publishing, Without Publishers.” Today, WWD weighs in (and makes up a new word in the process) with: “Social Media Breeds Edvertorial.” Suffice it to say, branded content — which is to say, original content published by a brand — is the talk of the fashion town. But is anyone actually doing it well?
Mashable’s listicle highlights Louis Vuitton’s Nowness blog and Net-A-Porter, both of which get namechecked by the Times and WWD, though the Times in particular seems confused about what Net-A-Porter actually is.
When it first began, people in the industry sniffed at Net-A-Porter, suggesting it was just a tatty e-commerce site masquerading as digital fashion magazine.
They’re not sniffing anymore. Net-A-Porter sold for over half a billion dollars, making it one of the most expensive purchases of a consumer publisher — if that’s what it is — in many years. Net-A-Porter now employs more than 900 people (more than a vast majority of newsrooms and magazines), features products from 3,000 high-end designers and has four million visitors a month — far more than InStyle.com from Time Inc., Style.com from Condé Nast or the Harper’s Bazaar Web site.
Last time we checked, Net-A-Porter was a luxury e-tailer, fullstop. Sure, they have their “Magazine” section — but all that does, as far as we can tell, is take the editorial portion of a traditional glossy and use it as a more hifalutin template for showcasing clothes available for purchase. Then again, that’s not necessarily far off from what magazines are doing with their pages anyway. Touché, David Carr.
But back to our original question: if the point of branded content is for brands to offer their readers content disguised as marketing, how good is the disguise? Perhaps due to the fact that all we do is read the internet all day, we’ve never come across content published by a brand that didn’t, well, smack of the brand. Designer diaries are nice, but who really thinks the designer is writing them? Gift guides are also great, but how often are off-brand items ever included?
A couple weeks ago, we attended a breakfast celebrating the launch of Dunhill’s new online magazine, Day 8. Dunhill describes Day 8 as a “content portal” where the Dunhill brand is the editor. (Really. We asked for a masthead. They refused.) Day 8, as of now, lives only online and as an iPad app — but the content examples we were shown were, by far and away, the best “branded content” we’ve ever seen. Take this piece on their so-called “Billionaire in Waiting,” Min Kyu Choi. Choi recently redesigned the UK plug, for which he won Britain’s prestigious Design Awards. The video is beautifully shot, intimate, and makes absolutely zero mention of the Dunhill brand; it’s the quality of the content is what ties the two together. Finally, we thought, a brand doing content right. There’s no click-to-buy, no link back to the e-commerce site! No mention of Dunhill at all!
But then, while doing our research for this post, we spent a little more time perusing the site. Of the 15 most recent pieces published on Day 8, at least five — though undeniably interesting and decidedly well done — were Dunhill related or sponsored. And that’s where branded content has its fatal flaw. Branded content is marketing masquerading as editorial. And as much as the fashion industry loves a costume party, they’ve got to work a little harder on their disguise.