The research firm L2 recently published a case study that painted a pretty dark picture of the fashion world’s grasp on YouTube as a marketing tool. As a result last week the YouTube marketing world was abuzz with articles asserting that luxury fashion brands were “dropping the ball on YouTube”. While some of their points are valid (and merit further discussion), it’s hard not to feel that many of the assumptions made fail to take into account the fact that fashion brands are like unicorns. Bear with us.
The case study showed that on YouTube, fashion brands have been making big gains in views and subscribers – increasing them by an average 204% and 87% respectively, which indeed is a huge win. Luxury fashion brands have accounted for the vast majority of that percentage increase. But those same brands, according to L2, have failed to make the most of YouTube as a marketing tool by failing to include sales CTAs in their videos, not advertising enough on YouTube, and failing to dominate YouTube search results with SEO tactics.
When it comes to YouTube search results, it seems that L2’s case study may have missed the point. L2 found that “less than half [of the brands] deliver content that reaches the top-three results” and suggest that this indicates a failure in achieving discoverability. Indeed in some (but not nearly a majority) of the cases, search is dominated by irrelevant content like songs by Gucci Mane and Punjabi pop star Armani – but L2 fails to make mention of the huge plethora of user-generated content (videos by YouTube reviewers and fans) that comprise the top results for the majority of luxury fashion brands’ search results.
The first-page results for Louis Vuitton, for example, show 16 reviewer videos that favor the brand, two runway fashion shows, one hilarious skit about the brand name by Russell Peters, and one branded link (to the LV channel). Half of both Prada and Hermès’ search results are favorable reviews and product unboxings, and the rest are dominated by branded videos from runway fashion shows. For both Louis Vuitton and Hermès, one of the top results was a news report by a leading station on the incredible craftsmanship of the brand’s products.
This remained true for the vast majority of top fashion brands that we searched – and we searched far and wide. If favorable reviews by YouTubers, positive news reports, and branded runway shows aren’t a good measure of “discoverability”, then we’re stumped. That type of discoverability – the kind where your brand heroes do your bidding for you – is often the best kind of discoverability.
That brings us to advertising, which L2 claims that fashion brands do far too rarely on YouTube. They found that less than 10% of the top 50 fashion brands regularly appeared in paid YouTube advertisements, thus limiting their visibility outside of their regular viewing audience. That does have a certain level of logic – luxury fashion brands have a great YouTube presence (especially considering all the user-generated content) but they could gain a lot more ground with targeted advertising.
However, its not necessarily true in this particular market that brands would want to be omnipresent. The most appealing part of a luxury brand after all is its rarity factor. Hermès artificially extends its wait lines to several years, for example, and Ferrari’s defining characteristic is the low availability of models. Luxury fashion companies want to avoid democratizing their brands at all cost – and that has always been a boundary for their marketing directors when considering online presence.
Sell, Sell, Sell
Another point that L2 communicated as a failure in YouTube marketing tactics was a lack of CTAs in the video content published by fashion brands. They found that less than 10% of luxury fashion brands provided buttons, overlays, or links that directed to product pages in order to complete the purchasing funnel. What wasn’t considered in this analysis, however, is that luxury fashion brands don’t necessarily want to close or even advertise their sales online – they certainly don’t rely on it, and their clients don’t favor it. Besides fearing the perceived ‘democratization’ of their products, the brands would also risk the purchasing experience associated with their products.
Only 5% of luxury fashion goods are sold online, nevertheless the stocks of fashion brands have been soaring. That’s because an integral part of purchasing a luxury item is the journey and the sensory inputs associated with that purchase. Their customers don’t want to click a button, they’d rather go to the store, experience the smells, sights, and sounds associated with that brand and the luxury customer service associated with the price tag.
So no, we don’t think that luxury fashion brands have “dropped the ball on YouTube”. Quite to the contrary, they are uniquely successful at inciting user-generated content and engagement to an extent rivaled only by makeup brands. When it comes down to it these brands don’t operate on the same plane as mass consumer goods, their marketing keeps their audience chasing the unicorn.