What Web 2.0 & Advertisers Can Learn From Fashion Labels

November 7, 2007

Many, many web 2.0-type companies and startups seem to be depending on the support of advertisers as a major source of revenue.*  While users get their platforms, apps, and services for free, the site is peppered with ads that the vast majority of people ignore.  As a whole, we the people of the web have gotten awfully good at tuning out ads. 

Seth Godin brought up Hotmail today (which may be out of vogue in Silicon Valley, but here in the heartland it is alive and well, surprisingly enough.  Of course, there are also still paying AOL subscribers here too.  But I digress.) when discussing Facebook’s advertising problem – basically, no matter how focused the ad campaigns are, Facebook’s users are there for the people, not the stuff.  They haven’t given permission to be marketed too yet.  This problem applies to many sites and social networks that are planning to sell ads.

There is an industry where advertisers not only have permission, people look forward to their next campaign – fashion, especially high end, big name fashion.  In what other form of media are the ads considered part of the reason to buy something as a opposed to a negative adds nothing to the overall value?  For the unfamiliar – many people buy the great big September and March issues of Vogue, Elle, and the like in order to check out all the new ad campaigns from the major labels. 

Not only have these individuals given the marketers permission, they are paying for the priviledge.  In fact, some of these ads were so controversial and provocative, they’ve earned their place in the pantheon of iconic cultural imagery (as you might guess, some of the images at this link are not safe for work due to the artistic sort of nudity). 

Like many other forms of marketing, fashion companies are trying to sell a fantasy.  However, how many of them manage to do it so well?  Ads from Yves St. Laurent, Chanel, Missoni, etc. are just as artistic as an editorial in many cases.  Hell, whole websites and discussion boards are devoted to them, they are shot by some of the world’s premiere photographers and feature top models and actresses.

To bring it back to the web, how can companies and websites use advertising or marketing in a way that it adds value and encourages discussion instead of simply sitting off to the side and cluttering up the screen?  Since advertising is pretty much a given in our lives, both on and offline, how can we make it better?  And of course, how can marketers/advertisers participate in the conversation in a positive way, a way that improves both the “stuff” being sold and the public’s understanding of it?

I don’t think that ads always have to be the enemy or a necessary evil – but they need to improve.  Perhaps other industries should take a glossy page from the fashion world’s book – ads don’t need to be overt or blaring as long as they tell a unique story and make the viewer want to know more; and instead of hanging out on the fringes of the conversation waiting for someone to notice, maybe it’s time to join it.

*I’m not going to get into to the fact that there can’t possibly be enough ad dollars to support all the forms of media that currently depend on it – that’s a subject for another post.

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