Publishers Rush to Mend Tears in Fashion Category

Recessionista has entered the popular lexicon, as fashion and beauty advertisers hit the reset button following years of heavy spending and even more buying by status-conscious consumers. In response, fashion magazines are touting bargain coverlines, while apparently capping the price points of the clothes and accessories they feature.

These unprecedented times have led the category’s bread-and-butter fashion and retail advertisers to ramp up their use of other media—challenging the notion that print has a lock on the vast majority of that spending, according to some buyers. “You’re seeing a lot more fashion advertisers expand their presence in the digital space, out of home and social media,” said Dennis Santos, vp, media director, PGR Media. “It’s accelerated because of the economy—digital is highly measurable and there’s a lower cost of entry.”

Clients are “less unwavering” about testing other media, said Barry Lowenthal, president of the Media Kitchen. “Fashion and beauty were probably the last holdouts because the [print] environment was so precious,” said Lowenthal, whose client Armani Exchange has moved money from print to mobile, in-store and out of home. “But I think that environment can be replicated elsewhere.”

Not surprisingly, publishers contend that while clients are dipping their toes in other media, there’s no wholesale shift. “What you have is people testing the Internet,” said Tom Florio, senior vp, publishing director at Condé Nast’s Vogue. “What you don’t have is fashion and accessories putting the majority of their budgets in the Internet.”

Fashion/beauty magazines are hedging their bets, though, with fresh research and events meant to reinvigorate spending. Hachette Filipacchi Media’s Elle will host a lounge for a month this fall at South Coast Plaza, the high-end mall in Costa Mesa, Calif., where editors will be on hand to promote advertisers. “Every dime we have in our promotional budget is being put to use for advertisers,” said Carol Smith, senior vp, chief brand officer. “The more people who come into their stores, the more people will buy those bags or shoes, and that helps us.” (Since this story published, Elle said it planned to move its lounge’s location to Bal Harbour Shops in Florida from South Coast Plaza.)

Condé Nast’s Glamour is promoting a shopping stimulus program, and Vogue is joining its overseas editions to promote Fashion’s Night Out, a multicity evening of shopping.

Magazines also are taking aim at the notion that people have stopped shopping. A recent survey by Condé Nast’s W suggested luxury consumers haven’t lost their appetite for high-end goods. Hearst’s Cosmopolitan launched an ongoing consumer survey to gauge women’s views of shopping and brands and help clients tailor their ads accordingly.

Buyers and publishers agree, print remains essential to the media mix. (Indeed, magazines’ share of apparel and accessories advertising, while down 4 percentage points from 2007, was still 75 percent in ’08, per TNS.)

Beth Fidoten, senior vp, print account director at Initiative, notes that some fashion and beauty clients are actually shifting some of their 2010 budgets to print at TV’s expense: “This is a very good category because of its visual nature, and the fact that circulation is doing very well speaks to the fact that readers are still very engaged with this category.”