Chanel Learns to Think Like a Media Company

“Vol de Jour” by Karl Lagerfeld | Source: Chanel.com

“Vol de Jour” by Karl Lagerfeld | Source: Chanel.com

NEW YORK, United States — In recent seasons, while a deep economic downturn has threatened the long-term survival of many magazines, a number of major fashion brands have been creating their own editorial content, and perhaps no brand has done more of this than Chanel. Back in November, Olivier Zahm posted an image of several layouts from 31 Rue Cambon, announcing “the first Chanel magazine which I have art directed and designed for Karl Lagerfeld, to be distributed worldwide in all the Chanel stores.”

But whereas 31 rue Cambon will be a print publication, Chanel’s real content focus has been in the digital space, harnessing Karl Lagerfeld himself to create increasing volumes of original content for digital distribution, especially around the brand’s showcase “Métiers d’Art” collections, which underscore Chanel’s unique commitment to the traditional Parisian ateliers the firm acquired in 2002 — costume jewellers Desrues, embroiderers Lesage, milliners Michel, feather-makers Lemarié, cobblers Massaro, floral designers Guillet, and silversmiths Goosens — a strategic point of differentiation.

Having created runway videos, a silent film and short video teasers to accompany their Paris-Moscou Pre-Fall 2009 and Paris-Venice Resort 2009-2010 “Métiers d’Art” collections, Chanel recently launched a longer-format film and a full runway video for their Paris-Shanghai Pre-Fall 2010 collection. To accompany Paris-Shanghai, Mr. Lagerfeld has also been posting a series of behind the scenes video diaries documenting his design process, as well as fittings with models and the making of advertising campaigns, all released via YouTube and the Chanel News section of the brand’s website.

In fact, Chanel News looks a lot like a blog and publishes “exclusive online features” with enough originality, regularity and volume to qualify as an online magazine. As well as the videos for the “Metiers d’Art” collections, there are fittings with Lily Allen for Spring Summer 2010, a ballet filmed in the haute couture salon at 31 rue Cambon, images of Coco Chanel’s private apartments shot by Olivier Zahm, photos of Edita Vilkeviciute’s favourite places in Shanghai, drawings of the Paris-Moscou collection by Russian model Sasha Pivavorova, personal entries from “Karl’s Diary,” and short films such as “Fitting Room Follies” and “Vol de Jour” featuring Lara Stone. With new features added every few days, it’s a remarkable volume of material.

So why is Chanel investing in creating and publishing all this digital content? The answer is rooted in the changing nature of media, marketing and technology and underscores lessons that all major fashion brands would do well to observe.

In the past, marketing fashion collections mostly meant buying pages in magazines or space on strategically positioned billboards. In both cases, brands paid to interrupt consumers, repeating a visual theme or message in order to create recognition, desire and conversion. By exerting their influence as advertisers, brands also forced magazines to feature their products in their editorial. But today, affluent consumers are migrating online, where the balance of power is dramatically different.

It’s hard for consumers to avoid advertising when they’re flipping through a magazine or walking down the street. And it’s hard for publishers to ignore advertisers’ demands when the costs of printing and distribution are high. But on the web, where the tools of communication are largely free — it costs nothing to publish a blog, share on Facebook, or broadcast on Twitter — brands no longer have the leverage to monopolise media or pressure editors. In fact, the sheer volume of media and commentary generated by consumers themselves increasingly drowns out the monologue of traditional marketing.

These days, it’s not about being louder. It’s about being more interesting. To communicate effectively, brands must inspire and harness conversations amongst consumers by giving people something remarkable to talk about — something of value that they will actively seek out, amplify and share with others. In this new reality, forward-thinking fashion brands like Chanel are learning to think like media companies, creating and publishing original editorial content to earn attention and attract fans who will carry their message across the internet.

This approach makes particular sense for luxury fashion brands who are known for their creativity and ability to convey social status. That’s because, online, content is social currency: influencers increasingly earn friends and followers by circulating interesting digital content via their blogs, Facebook and Twitter.

For Chanel, there are signs that this is just the beginning of a broad strategy to give consumers a continuous stream of inspiring content to talk about and spread across the internet, driving recognition, desire and conversion. In an interview with Women’s Wear Daily, Bruno Pavlovsky, president of Chanel fashion, recently announced plans to relaunch the current Chanel News blog, this March, as a full blown destination, chanel-news.com.“The idea is to give all these social networks a location where they can have genuine information about Chanel,” Pavlovsky said.

Watch this space.

Vikram Alexei Kansara is Managing Editor of The Business of Fashion

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10 comments

  1. A news site completely buit in Flash? I turned my flash plugin off and I get a blank page. It won’t even work on an iPhone or other webkit based mobile browsers!

    The main problem is that content contained in flash is unreadable by search engine bots. With jQuery (a javascript library which allows similar flash like animation and effects) there is no need to build sites like this in flash and comprimise on SEO. This is amatuerish at best. Even if they built this site in flash it should at least degrade gracefully but it doesn’t.

    I am very disappointed by a very poor technical implementation, although this only reinforces my belief that the fashion industry cannot reliably outsource technical projects.

  2. @AlistairAllan: This is a very good point. My other qualm with the site is that none of the images are right-clickable, which makes the content harder to share. That said, the overall strategic approach for Chanel News is strong, though admittedly the execution could be better.

    Imran Amed, Editor from London, London, United Kingdom
  3. I’m not sure what Chanel News’ future strategy is, but from what’s there at the moment I really don’t think it’s impressive at all, one blog posting per month is hardly embracing the web. I’m sure there is a lot of interesting things that happen at Chanel that could be made public to help reinforce the brand.

    Swide.com (D&G site) seem to have done a rather good job of creating their own content site (and keeping it very fresh with new content almost every day), although a little heavy on the branding for my liking but, to me, it seems like they are clearly leading the pack with regards to Luxury Fashion Corporates creating funnel sites.

    All of this is essentially old SEO funnel techniques, which are being implemented, which probably seems like a new idea in the fashion industry but not elsewhere I’m afraid.

  4. @AlistairAllan Your critique of the current technology implementation at Chanel News is very valid. Let’s hope that they address the issues with usability and sharability with the forthcoming relaunch. What I find to be remarkable about Chanel, however, is not the strength of their execution, but the smarts of the strategic direction they are taking: investing in unique digital content that consumers will happily carry, with the Chanel brand story, into the world. Indeed, much of the video content featured on Chanel News has also been passed around on YouTube.

    Vikram Alexei Kansara from New York, NY, United States
  5. I haven’t had a moment to take a look at the site, but comment above staying that SEO isn’t possible with Flash hasn’t had much experience with the application. I am sure the site isn’t a UI that is going to win any awards but, flash has far more flexiblity that Open Sources jQuery —- but there are always sacrifices in all things, all the time.

    Republic from United States
  6. I do not really understand the latest come-back of flash, Ikea just launched their community, built in flash entirely… So I guess this is another agency stunt, where the decision makers at chanel just agreed on a well made pitch instead of being able to decide on their own.

    though, chanel has been one of those who pretty early embraced the web – they were the first (high fashion) brand who invited bloggers (in 2007) and made quite a big deal out of it..

  7. It is remarkable to see a brand evolving its means of communication in an ever changing environment. Hopefully these will bring consumers to experience what really matter – the uniqueness of Chanel’s products.

    This also begs the question of what should magazines be in the net-age.
    Surely, magazine can only provide one thing the internet cannot deliver – the visual and pleasure experienced by the reader. But so many magazines have become so commercial that there is little need for them anymore as their content is already on the internet.

    Pleasure, stimulating and interesting content that appeal to our sense of touch and feel is a critical part of the magazine experience.

    After all, the internet can only convey information, not the actual pleasure that a magazine can convey (not the commercial ABC magazines)

    I mean in the age of downloads, people still pay $ 300 for the real concert experience