When Two Tribes Go To War

As the battle between fashion editors and bloggers heats up once again, iris’ Digby Lewis considers what this means for brands.

Twice annually, the world’s fashion elite and their social media counterparts meet in the back streets of London, Paris, New York and Milan to re-enact the battle scene from Anchorman, trading well-heeled shade and Instagram insults in an attempt to claim the right to tell the fashion news. Long may it continue, as it produces a wonderful fringe atmosphere, in an otherwise perplexing sequence of queues (if Prada did food banks), fuck-off vibes and people-carriers wrapped in privacy glass. 

The verbal arsenal on both sides is epic: “You have no style!”, “You have no audience!”, “You have to borrow your clothes!”, “You’re not even on Snapchat!”, and I totally get Vogue’s role in thispantomime. However, this time round, one of the Vogue team turned up with a proverbial hand grenade (if you’ve not seen Anchorman, I’ve probably lost you by now). And it was this: 

"It’s not just sad for the women who preen for the cameras in borrowed clothes, it’s distressing as well to watch so many brands participate."

This statement cuts right to the heart of the matter. It’s an economic cry for help. It’s a classic “Who Moved My Cheese?” moment. 'Why, in god’s name, are you, the stylish brands, with whom we’ve weekended on luxury yachts with Mert and Marcus, spending your marketing dollars on horrible, little “influencers”?’ It may seem as out of touch as a Baz Luhrmann-directed perfume commercial, but when a journalist’s salary barely covers the cold-pressed juice subscription, these perks are really, really important. Then suddenly, here comes a bunch of Instakids, with zero training and no visible scars from flat white schlepping internships, who can command double-page spread fees for rolling out of bed eclipsing even the supermodels of yesteryear. 

Fashion and luxury brands have seen ABC figures in free fall, recoiled in horror at the Reachpocalype of Facebook Zero and are lunging wildly in the direction of an attainable media channel. Hello Instagram et al. If getting your message across really is 70% how you look, 20% how you sound and just 10% what you say, then this is truly the medium to be in.

But look beyond Vogue’s dystopian vision, where all influencer content is little more than crap modelling. Were it not for the most persistent bloggers breaking the Swarovski-encrusted ceiling, we would never have evolved from the House of Chanel to the Burberry Shoppable Runway. 

So how can brands work effectively in these channels? And can the Empire strike back? It comes down to understanding the nature of influence, which ultimately is seeking to affect purchase behaviour. Across both editorial and commercial lines, we’ve seen the role of influence shift away from the Hollywood red carpet (also little more than preening for cameras outside large tents, but whatevs), to these Instagram Millionaires. Fortunately, the phenomenon of social talent has been around long enough for mass reach to no longer be the only metric that counts.

I’m delighted for you if you’ve amassed a million subscribers for breaking wind in your mate’s house for grins, but it doesn’t meet my client’s brand positioning. But if an influencer shares my client’s values and beliefs and in partnership we can create something original that works for both parties, then I’m all ears.

Similarly, what is considered an appropriate skill-set for the publishing world needs to evolve. The entire television and movie industry was built around linear career paths. It was an industrialised, unionised industry. You could spend an entire career pulling focus. Progressive media companies hire young, multi-skilled creators and give them the resources and time to make things they would want to spend time watching.

Fashion magazines have cottoned on to journalists with twitter and Instagram reach. But as long as their business models are predicated on selling CPMs on their digital properties, the ivory towers will continue to crumble. Because when two tribes go to war, a social engagement is what brands are actually looking for.  

Digby is Head of Platforms and Distribution at iris, and previously Director of Brand Strategy at Buzzfeed.