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Capitalising on the Met Gala Moment Is Harder Than it Looks

The Costume Institute benefit is fashion’s biggest night, but brands have few options to up the marketing potential. Are companies missing out by not thinking beyond the red carpet?
Brandon Maxwell and Lady Gaga at the Met Gala | Source: John Shearer/Getty Images for THR
By
  • Chantal Fernandez
BoF PROFESSIONAL

NEW YORK, United States — Lady Gaga may have won the Met Gala red carpet with a Brandon Maxwell-designed look, featuring multiple reveals, but her long-time stylist wasn't the only designer brand to make a grab for the spotlight — and Instagram likes — on fashion's biggest night.

Maybelline made sure it was a bigger part of the festivities this year too. In the past, the beauty brand took a more traditional approach: its supermodel spokeswoman, Gigi Hadid, prepared for the evening with Maybelline makeup artist Erin Parsons, with the goal that her beauty look would be shared on social media and picked up by blogs.

For the 2019 Gala, the brand deployed more makeup artists to prep five different guests — Hadid, Josephine Skriver, Lili Reinhart, Jourdan Dunn and Hari Nef. Maybelline also sponsored a "get the look" video with Vogue starring Skriver, published ads against all of Vogue's Met Gala content on Instagram and Vogue.com ran commercials during E!'s marathon four-hour red carpet special. That's in addition to a five-page sponsored content feature in Vogue's May issue, showing readers how to reproduce the most memorable Met Gala looks with Maybelline products. Plus, Maybelline is donating the services of its makeup artists to style Vogue staffers working the party.

The Met Gala earned its nickname as the "Super Bowl of fashion" in part because, for brands, there is arguably no bigger platform in the fashion universe. Monday's event was mentioned nearly 3 million times on Twitter and Instagram by 9 pm ET, when most guests had finished arriving at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, according to social-media monitoring and analytics firm Brandwatch. Sponsor Gucci was mentioned more than 45,000 times in that time period, far more than any other brand. In 2018, Met Gala content drove the highest traffic generating 48 hours on Vogue.com of the entire year, with unique users up 21 percent from the previous year. At one point during Monday night's coverage, the live blog crashed.

Brands spend upward of hundreds of thousands of dollars buying tickets or tables to the annual Costume Institute Benefit — or much more for sponsoring brands — which is hosted by Condé Nast artistic director and Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and a rotating slate of A-list stars. Meanwhile, designers outfit their guests in costly couture creations designed to make waves online.

But for many businesses, that’s where their marketing efforts end. Even brands from outside the fashion industry which, for example, advertise more actively during the award show season, are rarely spotted. (An exception on Monday was a sponsored Instagram post by host Serena Williams for Lincoln.)

Although audience traffic spikes for many fashion-oriented publications polled by BoF, most do not sell dedicated advertising against the Met Gala. For example, New York Magazine's The Cut advertised a sponsorship for its red carpet coverage from the Diamond Producers Association. But on Monday night, Vogue.com dominated, running campaigns from Gucci, Chanel, Olay, Maserati and Tiffany's alongside its red carpet image gallery.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BxJD6EIHeZ7

A source with knowledge of Vogue’s approach said the Met Gala is a “huge revenue driver” for the title, but publicly Wintour and Condé Nast emphasise its efforts to raise money for the Costume Institute over its own monetisation strategy.

So why aren’t brands and media outlets doing more to capitalise on the growing number of people watching the Met Gala's arrivals? If it's the Super Bowl for fashion, where are the Super Bowl-esque ads?

For one, the gala is still fundamentally a philanthropic event for the benefit of the Costume Institute, the only division of the museum which must generate its own funding.

The only channel where viewers can even watch the red carpet is E! and, as its perennial host, Vogue and Condé Nast largely control the content, especially inside the exclusive event, where Cher performed this year. With a few key exceptions (mainly digital content) the organisers have largely resisted overtly commercialising their marquee event.

“It is the Oscars of fashion in some ways, yet in the industry, we are still uncomfortable with having broader conversations with a mass audience like that,” said Jennifer O’Brien, co-founder of branding strategy firm Creative Strategy. “[Brands] fear being seen as too commercial.”

She added that the fact that the Met Gala falls outside of fashion’s major marketing moments — spring and fall — reduces its commercial potential too.

And unlike many of the dresses worn on the Oscars red carpet, Met Gala outfits are often one-of-a-kind. Celine Dion, for example, made a splash in a floor-length fringe gold bodysuit. While the moment helped Oscar de la Renta stand out on Instagram, it may not inspire people to visit one of the brand's boutiques. Some brands decided to opt out altogether this year, including Calvin Klein, Dolce & Gabbana, Balenciaga and H&M.

“It’s not a direct sales tool like every red carpet is, so its really unique in that perspective,” said luxury brand consultant Carineh Martin.

And if advertisers aren't in the business of fashion and actually dressing an attendee, they have less control over how their brand will be positioned.

"Am I going to be shown when Kim [Kardashian] is there? Anna [Wintour]? Rihanna?" said Ana Andjelic, a brand strategist. "If I were [chief marketing officer] of a company… I would want to have a positive brand association and I need that to be guaranteed."

The end result is that most advertisers typically repeat their media buying strategy year after year.

Not Maybelline, though.

Marnie Levan, Maybelline’s vice president of integrated consumer communications, said the brand has been tracking the Met Gala for several years and used this year’s event as an opportunity to test different types of content on different platforms.

“We definitely see that [the Met Gala] has giant impressions, but it will be really great to now quantify that in terms of: What did we get out of that from an impression standpoint, and how did that translate down into consumer engagement?” she said. “We see Met as a giant opportunity for us because it is New York City, it is fashion, so it’s pretty much as big as we want to make it.”

The brand’s deal with E! is a part of that plan. In addition to running television commercials, Maybelline sponsored the broadcast’s livestream on Twitter. E!’s decision to expand its television coverage from 2.5 hours to 4 is another indicator of growing advertiser interest.

It also reflects the growing mainstream hype around the gala, which is still relatively new.

Back in 1999, the Met Gala attracted an unusual mix of celebrities like Sean 'Diddy' Combs in addition to New York socialites like Nan Kempner, and with its “rock style" theme, marking a turning point in the event’s history. Another moment came in 2013 when Kim Kardashian was allowed to attend for the first time after being reportedly banned in the past.

Today, the fête has even surpassed the Vanity Fair Oscar Party as the most coveted celebrity invite, according to the New York Times, and generates online traffic spikes for fashion and celebrity websites and increased engagement across social media. The Met Gala has a growing track record of boosting brands that participate — assuming they can generate that all-important viral moment on the red carpet. Social media is still discouraged by the organisers once inside the museum.

Last year, The Met's Instagram account added 67,000 new followers the night of the gala, according to visual marketing platform Dash Hudson. Similarly, 2018's sponsor Versace added 78,000 followers that night and Vera Wang added over 11,400 followers thanks to its guest, Ariana Grande.

“It’s only this year that coverage has been extended, and only the past few years that the Met Gala has grown bigger and bigger,” Andjelic said.

The event’s role in marketing campaigns is only likely to grow, with more brands recognising the opportunity to use the public stage afforded by the Met Gala red carpet to do more than just push its products, said O’Brien.

“In a highly fragmented landscape these major tentpole moments are pretty rare, and they are very rare for fashion,” she said.

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