Op-Ed | Are We Failing to Fulfill the Potential of Fashion Film?

NEW YORK, United States — Each season, shortly after the four main fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris, marketers in our industry begin planning their print campaigns for the following season. It often takes us weeks, if not months, to assemble our creative teams and produce immaculately crafted shoots, followed by still more months to buy media placements in magazines and on outdoor billboards.

Meanwhile, for digital campaigns, it’s quite another story. Most brands piggyback their digital content creation on print shoots — when the photographer allows it — only to capture scrappy video clips, often nothing more than “behind-the-scenes” footage. Sometimes they use leftover dollars from budgets to quickly pull together a short film and launch it on their own website or Facebook page — often, all within the span of about a month. Indeed, there are so many missed opportunities in the way fashion, as an industry, is currently approaching video content, from planning to production to distribution. Is it really a surprise that the results are often less than spectacular?

As digital consumers watch video content at higher and higher rates, a study by the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) in the US found that 69 percent of marketers and 55 percent of agencies plan to increase their use of digital video advertising. And indeed, leaders in other industries have leveraged digital video campaigns to terrific effect, notably Procter & Gamble, Absolut and BMW.

Of course, fashion has produced a few winners as well: Steven Meisel’s Fall-Winter 2011 video for Lanvin launched a cultural meme, while Inez and Vinoodh’s latest film for Dior (above) earned over 4 million views in just two days. But for the most part, our industry has yet to take advantage of the full power of video. Budgets are misallocated. Content is poor. And distribution strategy is neglected. As a result, most fashion films fall flat. Just take a look at the YouTube channels of most top fashion brands. Most films do not even earn 10,000 views, let alone 100,000. The good news, however, is that the barriers to success are largely self-imposed and surmountable.

Lack of Distribution Strategy

A “build it and they will come” approach simply does not work. Online, people are busy socialising, being entertained, pinning or catching up on celebrity gossip and current events. They don’t stop to wonder what your brand is up to. To capture our audience, we have to go to them. But, for fashion companies, the standard approach to distribution tends to be: host the content on a brand website, post it to Facebook and tweet about it. Unless the brand in question has 12 million Facebook fans and 1 million Twitter followers, like Burberry, for example, this “distribution” only reaches a very small audience. (The average Facebook post is only seen by about 26 percent of the total fan base).

Brands should place their video content as carefully as they place their print campaigns. We need to distribute strategically, where our audience lives, works and plays online. Additionally, we need to publish video content to the right platforms. Posting a recipe on Tumblr, or a self-portrait on Pinterest, would be a faux pas that’s out of tune with the culture of those sites. Similarly, posting the same video across every social media platform is a mistake. Ideally, a brand should launch a fashion video with earned media to give the content credibility and later support the video with paid media to achieve maximum reach.

Uncompelling Content

Possibly the single most important point to consider when creating online film is: Why would anyone want to watch this? Before creating any piece of content, brands should understand their audience, psychographically rather than demographically, and why, where and how they are behaving online. Successful content will fit into these patterns.

It seems painfully obvious that content also needs to be good, but what constitutes good content can be highly subjective. To be sure, making good content is more art than science, but the most popular online videos do have some similarities, in that they often triggers core human emotions like humor, awe, sorrow or disgust. Remember, viewing online video is a voluntary experience and most videos are abandoned within the first 15 seconds. As an industry, we put aesthetics before storytelling. And while many of the fashion films being produced look good visually, the storytelling is often banal and dull.

Power Structures, Budgets and Politics

In fashion, the budgets allocated to print campaigns are sizable and the most sought-after still photographers (and their agents) wield quite a bit of power. Though they are not necessarily filmmakers and often don’t know how to tell a story through film, some photographers ban other imagemakers from their sets, claiming that the lighting, styling and other components of the shoot are part of the photographer’s “copyright” and cannot be replicated by others without consent. All too often they insist on shooting the video themselves, holding the camera, rather than working with seasoned directors of photography and technical camera operators.

Sometimes they simply assign this task to their assistants. On a recent video shoot, a renowned photographer, struggling to complete an eight shot count, turned over the responsibility of shooting moving image to his trusted first assistant. Armed with only a handheld Canon 5D, the assistant tried his best to capture footage over the shoulder of the photographer. But unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, the footage was shaky and the subject never made eye contact with the camera. Predictably, the resulting video was distant, unfocused and rambling.

What’s more, considerably higher day-rates for stills photographers provide little incentive for aspiring imagemakers to focus on digital video, where budgets are often only a fraction of their print equivalents. Indeed, until brands start incentivising partners to create digital content by paying them properly, it’s in everyone’s interest to simply continue with the status quo.

Paralyzed by ROI

Whereas print has vague accountability, many fashion brands hold digital marketing spend to a much higher standard and often obsess about tracking return on investment, though traditional online metrics like impressions and click-through rates are not necessarily the best way to measure the success of online video. As an industry, we need to better track engagement metrics — likes, comments, plays, shares — which can help brands to more accurately gauge the value of a piece of video content. But many brands also fall into the trap of allowing themselves to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of data that digital measurement allows, rendering them confused and, ultimately, unable to act in the face of a growing opportunity.

The big picture is clear. In numbers recently released by comScore, internet users watched nearly 37 billion online videos in the month of April, in the US alone. What’s more, in the same time period, US internet users watched 9.5 billion video ads, a record-breaking statistic.

It’s high time for fashion brands to overcome the hurdles that have kept them back and seize the digital video opportunity with both hands.

Quynh Mai is the founder of Moving Image & Content, a digital marketing agency focused on fashion and beauty brands.

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  1. Many good points indeed. What we also need is to increase visual literacy. Fashion brand owners struggle to express their identies online. If the brand identity is unspecified, the road from print & text to film becomes a gap. However, it is a gap which can be bridged by development and strategy.

    Dorrit Bøilerehauge from Denmark
  2. Many good points indeed. What we also need is to increase visual literacy. Fashion brand owners struggle to express their identities online. If the brand identity is unspecified, the road from print & text to film becomes a gap. However, it is a gap which can be bridged by development and strategy.

  3. What a fantastic, and long overdue, perspective from a practicing moving image company. The issue of fashion film being treated as an afterthought has hampered the development of the medium for the past 4 years and really needs to be addressed. The only way the drive the growth in quality and engagement is for fashion brands to initiate meaningful collaborations with specialist moving image makers and allocate budgets that recognise the costs of producing film. Both sides have a lot to learn about the way their partners work and hopefully a concerted effort to form these creative ties will enable quality and strategy to improve.

  4. Beautifully written! Video is the future. There is a story at the heart of every fashion brand, video captures the emotion, the passion, of the designer and gives us all a chance to connect. Thanks, Quynh!

  5. Thank you for this article!
    There should be a much larger presence for fashion films as well as more effort into creating films that really speak for the brand and collection.
    Visit fuckyeafashionfilms.tumblr.com where I curate fashion films by know n and unknown talent.
    It saddens me that overall quality of fashion films isn’t where it should be after these past few years.

  6. At the end of the day it will all come down to the imagery. The example accompanying this great article is cliche all the way. The Facebook/YouTube/Pinterest generation is beyond.

    Barbara416 from Toronto, ON, Canada
  7. Well stated Quynh, dormant digital is the absolute failure of the medium and kerplunk strategies do just that – sink! Like with Music, TV, & Film before it there is a fear to moving do into digital space. I’ve been speaking on this and ingratiating this as a service into fashion film companies and the @BFC. Like you, I work to bring clients comfortably into this space as it’s potential across platforms and opportunities is incredible. Curation is key. My strategy for fashion clients: Transparency, Exclusivity, Transaction, let’s keep chatting colleagues – this is the future. When interviewed for The Industry my call was the future is film and presentation for buyers. Look no further then Hedi Slimane’s move for buyers only Resort presentation. Glad this is up on @BoF! Cheers! @msmordecai

  8. I think that a fashion video, above all else, should make you covet the product by integrating it with a realistic lifestyle. Beautiful, artistic and avant garde films are always good, but a film that can lend the product a narrative is even better– you leave the video feeling as if the product could be a part of your own life, in the same way that television and films manage to make celebrities feel personal and immediate in a way that a print image cannot. I personally love the Oliver People’s 2012 Campaign video… the sheer beauty of the images maintains the aspirational quality of the product, while the playfulness of the video and the light-hearted narrative makes the product feel personal and accessible, as if it could easily be integrated into one’s own life.

  9. http://www.ljfff.com/

    all the best,


    twitter_eChiccom from Lakewood, NJ, United States
  10. Am I the only person who finds most fashion films dull ? First of all, I can’t watch them at work if the audio is an integral part, which really limits the time I have to dedicate to watching them. Secondly, most of them are more than 30 seconds (the average time of a commercial) which means brands are expecting us to watch really, really long commercials, for fun? I’ve seen very, very few with a compelling plot or visuals stunning enough for me to want to spend five minutes of my precious time watching a commercial. Exceptions include Lanvin’s video, and Sergio Rossi’s Shoe Love, but those are few and far between. Don’t most people spend most of their internet time at work on on their mobile, both instances where watching a loud video may be inappropriate?

  11. This article is spot on and beyond inspiring. What are big designers waiting for? They have the clout, the money, and the designs to push envelopes and clothing. I find that independent designers like Emma Mulholand and Daniel Palillo really push it. Partly due to the fact their brands aren’t a heritage brand.

  12. Well said Quynh- I speak as someone making fashions films. MAKE THEM SHORT

    ponyboy from London, London, United Kingdom
  13. Quynh Mai makes excellent points that apply well beyond fashion! Their website worth the look. http://www.movingimageandcontent.com/

    twitter_interlinejim from Cary, IL, United States
  14. It is not hard to find creatives who are able to capture moving images; besides technical skills, there has to be a sense and capability of story telling/ poetry with imagery—and why would you watch a story or poetry for that matter?

    Fashion Film should explicitly not be about aiming to sell an object or to grasp a large quantity of mainstream audience… http://www.pimawards.com/members/

  15. the problem is that unlike the film studio world, which uses unions to build a standardized system of professionals and creatives, wherein directors are paid/respected and protected at the same time that the technicians are paid/respected and protected for their skillset. Gaffers are not 21 year old photo assistants, data wranglers are not interns. The camera department spends months preparing on how to move the camera in a scene. They don’t just grab a canon 7d and wing it.

    Photography is a union-less, unregulated, bottom-line industry where productions are gutted by ego and lowballing. Until the photography industry goes the way of film, with protected roles and unions, there will always be a creative wall that keeps fashion films looking amateur.

    andrew from Queens Village, NY, United States
  16. Very good points. As we say in the company I work for “if content is king, distribution is queen”. We have worked with distributing video content for all kinds of brands (including fashion) to relevant audiences since 2005. By doing this fashion brands can truly engage their audience at scale. Encouraging to see that the fashion industry is becoming aware of the opportunities within online video.