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Nudge’s Ben Young: “Why luxury needs to get native.”

For all of the forward progress on the technology and advertising front, one sector seems rather slow to adapt.

Luxury advertisers are still opting for print placements in the “right” magazines, where they are assured of the company they keep in terms of other brands, and are positioned in “brand safe” environments. They have been doing it this way for ages.

There are obviously exceptions to this rule. Brands like Burberry, and recently Gucci, have been riding the bleeding edge of marketing, technology, personalization and experience. But when you zoom out to the entire sector, they represent the exception rather than the rule.

There will be a bigger shift coming. But trying out new advertising platforms is one thing. Understanding which platform and technology preserve the image that luxury brands spend so much time and budget cultivating is another.

Young consumers want to be told a story through a constantly refreshing narrative, rather than one campaign a season shot by an expensive photographer.

In the recent digital past, the formats were limited and ugly banner ads represented the antithesis of what luxury was all about. Until recently, many luxury brands were unable to replicate the impact and quality of print or TV campaigns online. It didn’t feel premium or “scarce” enough. Today even has its own challenges. I saw pre-roll for a very fancy Cartier ad before watching some link-bait fodder of a spider battle a swarm of bees on Digg.

Luxury requires finesse that other brands don’t have to worry about in terms of retargeting and chasing people around the web. Programmatic lacks brand safety (making sure you don’t end up retargeting someone as they peruse the Drudge Report). Luxury brands need exclusive, rarified environments, even in digital.

When we realize these points, the conservatism mentioned above seems somewhat warranted. But as today’s young professionals begin to account for an increasing amount of spend on luxury goods, the playbook needs to change as well. Today, brands need to release more than runway images; they need more content, and more varied content, to keep consumers engaged.

Young consumers want to be told a story through a constantly refreshing narrative, rather than one campaign a season shot by an expensive photographer. It is a steady drip feed of interesting content that elegantly comes together to serve a broader narrative about a brand. They are also actively blocking out other forms of pesky advertising, evidenced by the continuing rise of ad blocking.

Fortunately, native advertising has quickly grown up in both sophistication and also ability to deliver high quality stories with depth, integrated nicely within editorial environments. The needle brands must thread is brand safe environments, the same quality standards, environments and adjacencies that they are used to in print. And the ability to go deeper with their storytelling in an integrated way. And this is now possible.

What does the future look like? Let’s look at a few forward looking campaigns of note:

Gucci and Conde Nast

Gucci has been quite progressive in all areas — including marketing — under the eye of creative director Alessandro Michele, with a $2 million Conde Nast branded content partnership that felt creatively inspired and worked across multiple properties, including the seemingly incongruent Pitchfork (male millennials are an important part of their strategy).

Gucci president and chief executive Marco Bizzarri told Business of Fashion, “Digital narrative — whether through film, social media or native journalism — is the way that millennials in particular like to be engaged today. [It] will certainly play an increasingly important part of our strategy going forward.”

Park Hyatt and T Brand Studio (NYT): Tastemasters

The Times’ T Brand Studio is doing some of the best native content — helped in part by built in distribution from the paper itself. Their recent “Tastemasters” series with luxury chain the Park Hyatt. The series focuses on some of the elements that makes the brand unique, including the architect behind the iconic Park Hyatt Tokyo building, as well as contemporary art curators Cecilia Alemani and Massimiliano Gioni.

Mercedes and the Wall Street Journal Viewfinders

This was a well executed travelogue, diving into cultural elements of America focused on lifestyle and design via an extended road trip in a C-series. The picks are unusual and of editorial merit — it doesn’t feel like a phoned in piece of lazy advertorial. Inspiration and curation were sharp.

As native allows for more nuance, flexibility, and brand safety, expect it to compete for more of modern luxury marketers’ media mix. There is, of course, a place for print in the world. But expect the ratios to change as brands demand more transparency in how their spends are performing, and as their customers seek out more dynamic stories on the platforms they frequent. The tipping point is near.

Ben Young is a New York-based technology entrepreneur and founder of Nudge. He also co-founded Young and Shand, a digital creative agency based in his hometown of Auckland, New Zealand. Follow him on twitter at @bwagy. The views reflected here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Lean Luxe.

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