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Luxury Fashion Advertisers Looking to New, Nerdier Horizons

Luxury fashion is getting hip to the fact that a lot of people with a lot of money don’t read fashion or lifestyle magazines.

Maybe they used to read them, or maybe they never did, but magazines that fall in the “thought leadership” category, whether they focus on politics, criticism, financial topics, or some combination of all (like The Atlantic, The Economist, Harper’s, Bloomberg), are fielding a lot more interest from, and cutting deals with, fashion advertisers. While these types of titles have long gotten placements for luxury watches, cars and travel, major fashion brands like Gucci, Balenciaga, Burberry and Paul Smith are starting to place ads and branded content for the first time.

“We’ve definitely seen increased interest [from luxury fashion],” Ryan McRae, vice president of sales for The Atlantic, said. “Other types [of luxury brands] are not new for us, but I think advertisers are seeing a development in the political climate and the cultural climate and they’re turning, looking.”

To wit, Balenciaga is advertising this year with The Atlantic for the first time. A nice glossy image from the spring campaign, featuring two models primping in a mirror wearing designs by Demna Gvasalia (founder of cooler-than-thou Vetements), appeared as the backpage wrap for the January/February issue, and is running again for March. Articles in the issues cover topics like sport fandom in Tibet, the roots of the opioid drug crisis, LGTBQ terminology, and a “backlash” against revived feminism, among many others. There is not a celebrity, fashion spread or first-person account of the latest anti-aging “breakthrough” to be found.

“We don’t necessarily need high fashion [in the magazine],” McRae added. “We need the right audience.”

While he declined to specify what other fashion brands will be showing up in the pages of The Atlantic, McRae insisted there are more newcomers on the way, in print and online. Some will be straight advertising placements, while others will come out of The Atlantic’s branded content studio.

With data on readers getting ever more nuanced and specific (publishers investing in data and its analysis know where readers live and work, their income, online habits, etc.), it is a big part of the allure for fashion advertisers. As is an evolving notion that it’s now cool to be informed on the issues (and often scandals) of the day — “Did you see that story on [insert topic]?” is a constant refrain in many an office.

Luke Robins, global associate publisher and head of luxury at The Economist, said the trend has been seeing a lot of momentum over the last 18 months. “With so many crazy things happening in the world, it’s led to an obsession with global news and a desire [by readers] to engage and fashion brands are seeing that — it’s all about where the audience is.”  

Robins agreed there is a lot of power in the ability by his outlet and others in the same vein to lay out reader insights (mostly subscription-based, at that, so the data insights tend to be more specific), but noted it tends to boil down to who the reader ultimately is — working folks in their 20s and up who fall in the high-household income demographic of over $150,000.   

“If you look at global audience reports, the types of consumers that engage with us tend to be more affluent, more apt to spend, than perhaps those that engage with the more traditional fashion publications,” Robins said.

Mix that spending capacity with what Robins called the “passion points” of readers who engage with thought leadership publications — like entrepreneurship, philanthropy, education, and politics — and you have a potentially potent placement.

“The high-fashion consumer isn’t just interested in trends,” Robins said. “Their lives are much broader than that.”

Presumably, all of this went into the decisions by Gucci and Burberry to recently work with the Economist, with Gucci placing its digital campaign on the title’s web site for the first time and Burberry going for print in 1843, a sister magazine to The Economist that prints on a bimonthly basis. Seeing a Gucci ad above an article on the political future of Venezuela may seem out of place to someone looking for it, but for a typical reader, the placement likely does little but create an unconscious association between a luxury brand and a different kind of media. And as Robins succinctly put it: “That’s what brands want.”

But brands also want to make good use of their money, and there’s no getting around that an ad with a magazine that doesn’t live within Hearst or Condé Nast is, generally speaking, much cheaper. An outside back cover running one time with The Economist, for example, is set at $73,600 in North America while a premium digital ad is $31,400. Over at The Atlantic, which doesn’t publicly disclose rates, the figures are estimated to be in the same ballpark. At Bloomberg, which only discloses rates for print, a page in Businessweek will set an advertiser back around $115,000. Meanwhile, a page in Vogue as of last year was set at $208,000 and a full page in Elle about $186,000.

So not only is an ad in a thought leadership publication much less expensive than in a top fashion or lifestyle publication, but it’s going to stand out among other advertisers that typically turn up in thought leadership outlets, like hotels and banks and various consulting groups, and get prime real estate, to boot, like Balenciaga’s back wrap in The Atlantic.  

Jamie Tilson Ross, executive fashion director at Bloomberg Media, said brands are “just excited to show up against these properties.” While Bloomberg’s main product is its terminal, a $23,000-a-year service targeted at financial professionals, advertising with the outlet is apparently working for the fashion brands that have shown up in recent months. Ross didn’t want to specify who she’s been working with, but said it’s been most of the brands within LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Kering and there’s more placements, events and content coming this year.    

Again, Ross, who before joining Bloomberg worked in a similar role at Vogue, pointed to the level of data that outlets like Bloomberg have and that the data tends to show their readers are the wealthy types luxury fashion always wants to be in front of (Bloomberg has thousands of analysts worldwide looking at economic trends, but also consumer and reader habits). Ross also mentioned that Bloomberg recently launched Panorama, its own branded content studio, to work on even more projects and events with fashion and luxury brands, in particular.

“Acquisition has never been more important for these brands,” Ross said, “and this is acquisition and gaining awareness with a new audience.”

While Ross shied away from saying the apparent momentum thought leadership outlets are having with fashion brands will affect the advertising buys in fashion and lifestyle publications, she did say “the direction the marketplace is going in is extremely valuable for others.”

“It’s the lifestyle [these readers] live, it’s not aspirational and that’s the difference,” Ross said, using the word constantly used by traditional fashion and lifestyle outlets. “It’s an audience that’s highly affluent and so vast and with all the data, brands can slice and dice it [for placements] however they want.”

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