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Social Media Breeds Edvertorial

When it comes to the influx of designers creating branded content on the Web, editorial is the new advertising.

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Bold color may have been the new black on spring runways, but when it comes to the influx of designers creating branded content on the Web, editorial is the new advertising.

“We’re publishing content in an authentic way, and if it’s increasing our brand awareness, then it could be defined as advertising. It’s a new way of communicating with consumers,” Miki Berardelli, chief marketing officer at Tory Burch, said of the changing definition of advertising. “It’s taking an editorial approach to telling your brand story, and the social-media space just lends itself so beautifully to that combination.”

Editorial-style content from brands is nothing new — it’s just become a more integral part of marketing in the social era and a fresh way for a company to position itself. And, as magazines cut staff or shutter altogether, the new editorial focus of fashion brands is providing a soft — and sometimes lucrative — landing spot for journalists and editors.

There’s only one hitch: branded editorial content from the likes of Ralph Lauren, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton’s Nowness, A|X Armani Exchange, Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Donna Karan and Juicy Couture — as well as retailers such as Gilt Groupe, Club Monaco, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Topshop, Net-a-Porter and Urban Outfitters — is, naturally, branded. The more fashion firms and retailers push into “editorial,” the greater the debate gets over that age-old dilemma: what is the line between editorial, advertising and advertorial?

And do brands — or the consumer — really care anymore in this information-all-the-time digital world? After all, fashion magazines blurred that line long ago — just check the credits in fashion shoots against what labels advertise.

Bernd Schmitt, a professor at Columbia Business School with expertise in branding and marketing and the director of its Center on Global Brand Leadership, said it’s a clever strategy for fashion companies to utilize editorialized content, since it’s considered more “trustworthy” to consumers and worth paying more attention to than traditional advertising.

Consumers know that branded editorial isn’t objective, and they have no problem with that, contended Schmitt. They’re on a quest for a broad range of information, and they have control over which brand’s Web site they want to visit and which they don’t.

“What they’re looking for is information and tips, and brands are no longer just about the clothing but about a broader lifestyle. They’re looking for some sort of guidance,” Schmitt said. “Of course, the company owners get something out of it, because they have a better way of reflecting their brand for a lifestyle perspective. Everybody gains.”

He acknowledged that an issue exists at the point where editorial stops and advertising begins, but he believes this development is a positive one — it’s the consumers’ decision to immerse themselves in this content.

The dovetailing of editorial and advertorial aids in building a more personal relationship with the consumer and drawing them in. “It’s about getting a brand message across in a much more engaging and exciting way than a pure print advertisement. You’re telling a story, making it more emotional and getting the consumer to be more interested in that story. You’re entertaining her, and that’s how you’re getting her attention, which is more effective than saying, ‘Go buy this shoe now,’” said James Gardner, founder and chief executive officer of the digital agency Createthe Group.

This new way to advertise has only been made possible by the advent of social media, according to Gardner. After seeing the power of marketing effective viral content, brands are scurrying to invest in this type of material — and in many cases, are cutting back on their traditional advertising spending as a result.

But traditional advertising won’t disappear completely, since it serves a different purpose than digital efforts, which remain in their infancy as brands try to determine whether the quantity of audience they are getting online really equates to the quality of reader they get in print. Magazine ads still provide a better return, given the quality of the audience. For the moment, the quantity of online viewers can’t compete with that.

“It’s completely different,” David Lauren, executive vice president of advertising, marketing and corporate communications at Ralph Lauren, said of print versus digital advertising. “Our print advertising is showing our brand in a way that’s appropriate for a print medium, and what we do online is create context that helps fill out our story. With a single page, you’re limited, and online you have as much space as you want. It’s unlimited.”

Tom Jarrold, chief marketing officer at A|X Armani Exchange, agreed, but now effective marketing is about more than just creating an advertisement. Firms need to develop robust original content that varies from conventional marketing, he said.

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