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

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  • Guest Contributor

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 (featured above) launched a cultural meme, while Inez and Vinoodh's latest film for Dior 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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The State of Fashion: Technology