The Future of Fashion Advertising: Branding or Direct Response?

January 31st, 2006

Danielle over at Final Fashion wrote an interesting post about how runway shows are a money-losing proposition and only really appropriate for Big Name designers.  Fashion Merchandising 101 told me that runway shows, while Glamorous, are staged more for branding purposes than for actually directly generating sales.  I’m generalizing here, but runway shows are staged for the press (so they’ll write about you and promote you to Jane Q. Public) and for your top clients (so they’ll feel special and buy more of your clothes!).

As Bob McCarthy pointed out in his blog, The Direct Response Coach, the advertising world is made up of two groups with very different philosophies: branding and direct response.  The fashion world, for better or for worse, is heavily weighted towards the branding camp.  Why?  Well, fashion depends heavily on perception, and having a strong brand gives a product a leg up in the marketplace.  And what makes branding so enticing to fashion companies is that building a strong brand allows them to elevate consumers’ perception of their entire product portfolioall in one fell swoop.  When you consider the number of products that are in a typical fashion line (from dozens to hundreds), branding as an advertising philosophy makes a whole lot of sense.

Direct response, however, is the reigning queen of the online advertising space.  What’s so interesting about Internet advertising (as compared to offline advertising) is its inherent measurability.  If you run an ad through Google AdWords or through Yahoo! Search Marketing, for example, it’s possible to see how many people saw that ad, how many people clicked on your ad, and how many people bought something/registered for something/etc on your site.  You can calculate your return on investment (or ROI) for your advertising dollars.  You can quantify how effective your advertisements are and make adjustments as needed.

Branding vs. Direct Response.  In the fashion world, branding (at least offline) is the clear winner as I write this in January 2006.  But what about the future?  Will branding continue its reign?  Or will direct response win out in the end?

I don’t pretend to know the answer to this question, but I’ll share with you my humble prediction.  The forces that make branding so enticing today will continue to exert influence in the years to come.  But the allure of direct response’s measurability will also have an impact on how fashion advertising budgets are spent.  There’s something to be said for a quantifiable ROI.  Already, some fashion companies are listing their products on direct response-type sites like and  A quick glance at women’s apparel on showed items from Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdales, J. Crew, and Kenneth Cole.  I predict that we’ll see a significant increase in this direct response advertising, but we won’t see that jump until we see more specialized fashion shopping search sites.  That is, it’s not going to be a or a that’s going to see this gain (unless they radically improve the way their sites work for the apparel category).  Instead, I think it’s going to be a specialized fashion search vertical.

What do you think about the future of fashion advertising?  Branding?  Direct response?  Or both?

Entry Filed under: News,Off Topic


  • 1. Almost Girl » Blog &hellip  |  January 31st, 2006 at 2:17 pm

    […] The State of The Fashion Union blogging carnival is yielding fruit in the form of my favorite discussion. The girls at Omiru broach the subject of The Future of Fashion Advertising: Branding or Direct Response […]

  • 2. Style for All&hellip  |  February 1st, 2006 at 11:47 am

    […] February 1st, 2006 Julie of Almost Girl asks, "What will fashion advertising look like and where will it come from?"  While the future is hazy (at best) to us as well, we’ll offer up our two cents.Question 1: What will fashion advertising look like?Fashion advertising, as discussed in Part One of this post, will likely be a combination of branding and direct response advertising—and more heavily weighted toward direct response than it is now.  As for what it’s going to look like, we’ll throw our hat in the ring and offer up a few ideas:Branding isn’t going to go away.  The “slick expensive ad campaigns shot by expensive photographers with exotic models” described by Julie aren’t going to end.  However, the measurability of direct response is likely going to affect the way branding campaigns are run.  We predict that these branding campaigns (the ones with the beautifully blasé looking models) will be held to a higher standard, one that involves metrics in some shape or form.  The fashion industry is waking up to the potential of the Internet, and though the industry will inevitably face a rocky road on its quest to embrace these online opportunities, they’ll get there.Direct response fashion advertisements aren’t going to look like your standard Google text ad.  For one, they’ll have to include images—even a lengthy description of that perfect oversized teal sweater is far less compelling than a thumbnail image of the garment.  Question 2: Where will fashion advertising come from?Right now, fashion advertising is dominated by Big Companies with Deep Pockets.  Completely natural, given that they’re the ones that have the dollars to shell out on these expensive branding campaigns.  Take a look at the latest Vogue (or other fashion magazine of your choice).  Who do you see advertising?  Luxury brands, big name designers—most, if not all, with financial backing.  After all, that Versace ad with Halle Berry can’t have been cheap to produce. Fashion, however, is becoming more democratic (in part, thanks to the scores of up and coming designers looking to make their mark, and as The Fashionable Kiffen notes, thanks to fashion bloggers).  Advertising in the future, especially as the industry shifts towards the scalable, affordable direct response ads, will include more of these voices.  While the majority of fashion ads might still be from the Louis Vuittons, the Versaces, and the Calvin Kleins of the world, smaller designers will be able to speak as well. […]

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