T Brand Studio — the branded content studio of the New York Times — is earning more digital luxury advertisers, and brands like Gucci and Max Mara are taking note.
Luxury brands have traditionally been a significant source of advertising revenue for the print edition of the Times. However, the publication has had a harder time wooing them to its digital properties. In an attempt to court more luxury advertisers — which account for nearly a quarter of branded content projects for the Times to date — the team is turning to expanded capabilities and advanced technology.
Elizabeth Lunny, vp of advertising at the New York Times and the publisher of T Magazine, said that, to get more luxury brands to advertise online, it’s fleshing out high-touch tools like 360-degree video, virtual reality and social media management. T Brand has also strategically appointed leadership to better appeal to high-end retailers, including the appointment of Interview magazine alum Tracy Doyle as creative director of fashion and luxury in June 2016. In the past year, these efforts helped bring in advertisers like Tiffany & Co., Cartier and Bottega Veneta, and sent a message to existing print advertisers on the value of digital advertising, an area that traditional luxury brands have been slow to adopt.
To speed up the process, Lunny said T Brand has worked on establishing a heightened sense of trust with its luxury clients, allowing them to have a more hands-on role in campaign conceptualizing. As a result, retention is increasing: 50 percent of luxury brands that have worked with T Brand have signed on for more than one project. The aim is to continue to increase that percentage while bringing more companies into the fold.
“What you really have to have is the trust factor,” she said. “We learned about the importance of trust over the past year with Gucci, in talking about ideas and initiatives they have coming up. We shared what we thought we could bring to the table from a creative standpoint and how we thought it would live within the the New York Times and our platforms.”
T Brand’s relationship-building approach with Gucci paid off. Last week, it launched a virtual reality video for the brand, which features products co-designed by artist Ignasi Monreal for Gucci’s 2017 gift catalog. The video allows users to drag and click to see a 360-degree view of Monreal’s London apartment, depicting imagery that served as inspiration for the collection. Viewers are then redirected to a standalone Gucci website, where they can browse gift ideas by category.
The Gucci campaign comes on the heels of T Brand’s partnership with Max Mara last month, a tongue-in-cheek video called “Coat Tales” for the brand’s newest collection of outerwear. The campaign had a video start rate five times higher than average for videos embedded in branded content, which Lunny attributes, in part, to bigger display units that provided higher-quality imagery.
“Max Mara was very clear that they wanted to tell a story, and they wanted it to be uniquely theirs,” she said. “They have a very intelligent woman who buys their brand, and they’re interested in the product and quality, and who they are. When [T Brand] created this pitch, it was a really cheeky intellectual kind of story that we wanted to tell. They felt that it was truly on point with who they are as a brand.”
The ability for T Brand to distribute social content for brands and execute a full digital strategy can also serve as a selling point for luxury brands, many of which still lack resources for areas like social. Beyond easing the workload of busy brand executives, Lunny said the Times’s status as a subscription-based property also sets a precedent that appeals to luxury brands because of the sense of exclusivity.
Ultimately, Lunny said what sets the New York Times apart from other digital advertising agencies is its name cachet and innovative storytelling, both from a journalistic and promotional standpoint.
“At the end of the day, we’re the New York Times. We’re the best storytellers in the world,” she said. “Our journalists capture the story, they dig for the story, they know what readers gravitate toward. We practice those principles within the business side and the entire brand. We always look for what we think is going to resonate with the consumer, especially because they have a million different messages — we have a team here that understands what is going to resonate.”