Marketing's New Rage: Brands Sponsoring Influential Bloggers

Barneys, Gap, Coach and other big brands are collaborating with bloggers to create new, controversial forms of advertising.

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Jane Aldridge

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Even more than traffic, brands need bloggers for search engine optimization, said observers. It’s especially important for luxury brands, so positive mentions in blogs come up high in searches rather than knockoff sites selling fake handbags, said Jacob.

As marketing becomes more social, the old advertising model of repeating one message over and over doesn’t work as well, said Pete Spande, senior vice president of Federated Media, which sells advertising and arranges sponsorships for blogs.

“You’re talking at the customer rather than with the customer,” he said of the old model. “As the advertising environment becomes more social, you need to be more conversational, too. You need to be able to carry on a conversation at scale with your customer rather than talk at them.” Blogs are ideal vehicles for that. Also, brands are starting to think of themselves as publishers and need content, he continued.

After all, brands have to think of something to say on their own blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Flickr, Tumblr and other social sites. Like everyone, companies are no longer limited to editorial mentions or advertising buys to get the word out, but can speak directly to the public online.

Brands also can build their own community sites, but “just because you build, it doesn’t mean people will find it and necessarily take it seriously,” Spande said. “This is a way to be part of conversations native to that community rather than try to form your own community.”

Companies may turn to social media to seem hip. Coach is becoming well known for its campaigns with bloggers, perhaps more than other brands. The iconic American company is leveraging blogs to change its image, said Jacob, who has worked with Coach, J.C. Penney and others.

Some of Coach’s earliest efforts in online marketing and social media were around the launch of Poppy, a colorful and more affordable line aimed at a younger customer. On Aug. 17, Poppy unveiled its fall campaign, a scavenger hunt game and tweet contest on 334 blogs. The more a consumer tweets about the brand, the more likely she’ll win Poppy merchandise.

The blogs typically deliver a highly qualified audience of existing or potential new customers. A partnership between Barneys and Aldridge seemed like a good fit.

“Jane herself is constantly at Barneys. We thought the synergy there was too great an opportunity to pass up,” said Barneys director of Internet marketing Heather Kaminetsky, who added that the Sea of Shoes blog has a passionate following among Barneys employees. “For the Barneys shopper who wants the shoes we sell, that’s who we want — that’s her loyal following.”

“The brands that are working with bloggers, I think they get it,” said Schroeder. “They realize bloggers are their customers and their bloggers’ readers are their customers, so they’re taking that natural chain of who they want to work with. You have these customers who are already wearing their stuff, so why not see how you can take it further with design collaborations or videos?”

Previously a private label designer, Schroeder was able to start blogging full time last year thanks to sponsorships, and is writing and illustrating a book on style next year, to be published by Ballantine.

Typically, she will incorporate an item from the brand into her daily outfit photos, and the brand also may run banner ads at the same time. Sponsorship relationships are disclosed in the outfit credits.

“I like to work on projects that seem really natural and that aren’t a huge stretch out of my normal life,” she said.

The blogs offer an intimacy that print mediums can’t. If fashion magazines serve up the untouchable fantasy, then style blogs keep it real and personal.

Blogs are more interactive and accessible than other forms of media, said Jacob, who was a graphic designer for 10 years before she became a blogger. “One of the things people crave is a feeling of importance and feeling ‘part of,’ and that’s what bloggers can offer that other forms of media can’t do as well.”

“Personal style bloggers are redefining themselves: Here’s my world, here’s the window, come on in,” said Schroeder. “You can see the flaws and the inspiration all at once. There’s a trash can in back of my picture and I’m wearing tennis shoes that have a smudge and I’m not in a controlled studio. People can relate to that and see themselves in the shoes much better than they can in 800 shoes in a magazine.”

Readers get to know the style bloggers and some of the details of their lives. They can comment, e-mail and — if they are also fashion bloggers — meet them. “It’s like a fashion club,” said Schroeder.

Bloggers said proposals from brands have been growing since 2008. “We’re certainly seeing many, many requests for these types of integrations and sponsorships,” said Spande. “There is quite a bit of attention around these, and the comfort level of working in these kinds of sponsorships is on the rise.”

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