Starting in 2017, several luxury houses and retailers launched podcasts in rapid succession. There was Chloé Radio, focused on feminine inspiration. Margiela’s podcast showcased John Galliano’s musings on the brand’s collections. Barneys hosted a celebrity and influencer interview series. More followed: Saks, Miu Miu and Hermès all experimented with the medium through seasons or limited series.
It seemed an apt opportunity for brands to further their connection to consumers and the world created through its products. But just a few years later, the format has proven difficult for brands to master: Chloé, Margiela, and, of course, Barneys, have all discontinued their podcasts or limited them to a single series, along with several others, including Hermès and Miu Miu. Chloé and Margiela declined or did not respond to comment for this story.
A new channel can give those that embrace it first a head start on other brands, as well as a deeper connection to a new audience. E.l.f. Makeup’s early bet on TikTok, for instance, revived the brand and led to several sold-out products lines.
For fashion brands, however, podcasts have yet to achieve the same levels of success or monetisation as other platforms. The audio expedition for brands and retailers alike has been uneven and brief, lacking the effectiveness and financial gain of traditional advertising methods. Still, many brands have found different ways to utilise podcasts to their benefit, primarily for marketing or to build community.
“A lot of them were blinded by the podcast rush,” said Joe Gagliese, co-founder and CEO of influencer marketing agency Viral Nation. “Realistically from a brand perspective, it’s a very hard thing to invest in and grow at the scale at which it needs.”
While fashion brands have effectively co-opted certain mediums like television, magazines and video games, the lack of visuals — and with it, a chance to feature products — make it difficult for brands to craft the binge-able narrative elements that podcasts often rely on. Competition makes it even more difficult to stand out: the top one percent of podcasts receive 99 percent of downloads, according to Axios.
Monetising the medium has also been difficult for brands, putting it lower on the priority list as marketing budget cuts continued during the pandemic.
Podcasts primarily make money through advertising and Patreon, avenues that are difficult for labels to pursue. They can’t adopt the same brand sponsors as media companies can — it’s unlikely that Chanel would ever call upon Chloé as an advertiser, for instance. And putting muscle behind promotion to cut through the endless barrage of podcasts feels redundant for a product intended as marketing itself.
A lot of them were blinded by the podcast rush.
Downloads and listenership aren’t publicly available, but the fashion and beauty category on Apple’s top podcast charts is largely dominated by media companies and independent projects. No fashion brand podcast has reached the top 10, according to podcast analytics platform Chartable.
Still, brands are launching podcasts with goals beyond monetisation. Danish contemporary label Ganni co-founders Ditte and Nicolaj Reffstrup started a podcast, Ganni Talks, when lockdowns were enforced around the world in early 2020, interviewing a range of guests and close friends about their lives in quarantine.
“From a cost perspective the overhead was close to zero,” said Nicolaj Reffstrup, as they conducted interviews with a computer set up from their bed and phone or Zoom calls to guests.
The podcast was unlikely successful if judged by typical metrics: the series has just three ratings on the Apple podcasts app, and no plans in the future to monetise through sponsorships or exclusive deals. A spokesperson for the brand added that it does not have a clear benchmark of total listeners.
“We were less concerned about quantitative impact and more interested in qualitative impact,” said Reffstrup. “On the latter, I felt that we scored high.”
That qualitative potential is a reason to try the medium. Focusing a podcast on a brand’s founder, for example, allows for a deeper connection with audiences. Diane von Furstenberg and Rebecca Minkoff both have started podcasts, with the latter generating close to 100,000 downloads a month. Minkoff, notably, also appears to have been able to monetise the show, accepting sponsorships ranging from pre-roll ads to sponsoring a guest on the show. Listeners also have the option to donate anywhere from $0.99 to $9.99 a month to show their support. A spokesperson for Diane von Furstenberg stated that the brand is hoping to revisit podcast opportunities soon.
Some have also found ways to pursue podcasting longer than a limited series or season. Gucci’s aptly named “Gucci Podcast” is one of the longer-running luxury podcasts. Launched in May of 2018, the podcast features collaborators and influencers for the brand and has over 340,000 unique listeners across 44 episodes.
Chanel’s most recent podcast, titled “Chanel Connects,” which launched in January, follows a run of limited series for the brand, from 3.55 to Chanel à L’Opéra. Chanel Connects has over 55,000 listeners, and a spokesperson for Chanel told BoF more series are currently being planned.
As a community and brand-building exercise, podcasts can offer a way for loyal consumers to connect further with their favourite label or designer.
Haircare brand Olaplex, for example, views its recently debuted podcast, Beauty Uncovered, as a way to capitalise on conversations happening on its Facebook groups and Facebook Live events. Chief executive JuE Wong calls it an informational tool for consumers, a place to address questions about Olaplex’s products and hairstyling help.
“This is not an hour infomercial every week,” said Wong. “We are here to provide a service that can be helpful as people listen.”
Of course, it may also work as a top of funnel strategy, as a way to introduce consumers to Olaplex and its products. Brian Vaughan, executive creative director of marketing agency Shadow, said that approach is likely to have more fruitful results for the brand hosting.
“I don’t necessarily look at it as a bottom-line sales driver,” said Vaughan. “I think about it in the marketing mix as more of a content farming play.”
If brands approach podcasts as a brand-building tool rather than a money-making one, they’ll be more likely to find it worth their time. Ganni, for one, is set to launch a second podcast series called Ganni Culture Club in late March, hosted by journalist Marjon Carlos, who will interview women that inspire the brand for cultural recommendations.
“This was purely a brand marketing activity with no direct return on investment,” Reffstrup emphasised of the brand’s initial podcast, which wrapped in May of last year, saying it was a way to further connect with consumers and give discussions a platform. “It fits well with our patchwork approach to storytelling, to building a brand, and it fits well with a core part of our DNA, which is transparency and honesty.”