When T Brand Studio was founded in 2014, it had four employees. Today the brand marketing arm of The New York Times is more than 100 strong. And as of last week, it has a new leader at the helm of luxury and fashion marketing.
T Brand Studio appointed fashion veteran Tracy Doyle as its new creative director of fashion and luxury content, a strategic pivot by the company to bolster fashion-centric native advertising. Meanwhile, fellow publishers like BuzzFeed are expanding sponsored advertising partnerships in the retail and beauty space.
The emphasis on fashion and beauty is telling, as enhanced technological capabilities begin to entice luxury brands that were nonplused by the early days of banner ads and pixelated mobile images.
Adam Aston, vp and editorial director of T Brand Studio, said that for brands that have “exceptional fastidious control over their image and products,” fashion houses were quick to scoff at the formats of early digital ads, maintaining investments “in the color controlled richness of the print world.”
“Luxury lives in a world of very rich, image-saturated, large format kind of storytelling, and to be honest, I don’t think digital has offered them a way to repeat that online until pretty recently,” Aston said. “For the first time there are frameworks we can offer that really mimic the match and richness of visual presentation that print offers.”
T Brand Studio’s expansion is timely, as recent data shows digital advertising spend among luxury brands is anticipated to increase by 3 percent in 2016 to reach an estimated total of $10.9 billion, while print advertising is expected to fall from $133 million last year to $128 million this year according to a Zenith Luxury Advertising Expenditure report.
“Fashion and luxury brands are very much about their image, and digital can be messy,” said Lisa Howard, svp of advertising for The New York Times Company. “They want to make sure they’re telling a story in a way that’s beautiful and really carefully articulating their image and the brands that they represent.”
The hesitance to dabble in digital advertising can also be attributed to major fashion houses are notoriously slow to adapt or make any changes that may detract from their history and aesthetics.
“We’re looking at getting more organic interest from the luxury and fashion partners who in the past have been a little more hesitant about some of these opportunities,” Aston said.
Summer Anne Burton, executive creative producer at BuzzFeed, is a self-proclaimed “OG BuzzFeeder.” Burton joined the staff back in 2012 as a weekend editor before rising to a managing editor role, overseeing the publication’s viral lists and newly created verticals at the time like BuzzFeed Animals.
By the beginning of 2016, she felt like she had exhausted all of her editorial growth options, when a new opportunity came calling on the business side.
“The best advertising we can do is led by the same core principles that editorial is led by, from experimenting and learning, to really caring about the impact that we have on our audience,” Burton said.
For BuzzFeed, editorial experimentation is at the core of its digital advertising ventures. Its recently launched TopKnot beauty vertical is a testament to this, which shares beauty-related content and branded how-to videos on its website and Facebook page, and has almost 3 million followers.
BuzzFeed has used the success of its editorial beauty coverage to inform and expand digital and native advertising. Last year, they partnered with Avon on a sponsored post and are continuing to form nascent relationships with beauty brands.
“We’re always trying to identify what’s working and then lean into that. Even on the editorial side, with how successful beauty content was, makes it something we can do really well, and bring a lot of insight to brands that we work with.”
As part of BuzzFeed’s ongoing experimentation, the site has dabbled in recent efforts like Body Positivity Week in May, developing thematic editorial content with the added benefit of gleaning audience engagement data and feedback to share with prospective brand partners. The stunt included 89 posts that garnered more than 17 million page views.
“It’s always a collaboration and a partnership,” Burton said. “We don’t have all the answers, and it’s such an evolving landscape that we’re figuring it out, too, and figuring out the ability to see what works and to be on the cutting edge.”
Likewise, Aston, who has an editorial background as both a journalist and corporate business writer, and Interview Magazine alum Doyle bring a rich storytelling background that helps inform strategic content marketing decisions.
“We marry journalistic credibility and technological prowess that I think is unique in the industry,” Lisa Howard, the svp of advertising for The New York Times Company, said.