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Chanel Learns to Think Like a Media Company

“Vol de Jour” by Karl Lagerfeld | Source:
  • Vikram Alexei Kansara

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,"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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