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A Constantly Shifting Landscape in Italy’s Online Fashion Game

Hugo McCafferty, Native Editor at Independent News and Media, looks at Italy's online fashion marketplace.


In many ways Ireland is ahead of Italy when it comes to digital advertising. Certainly there’s a healthier more robust industry (per capita), with Irish people more likely to have disposable income. However, as always Italy is a world leader in the specific areas she turns her attention to. Namely the luxury goods market.

The major Italian brands – Armani, Dolce&Gabanna, Prada, Fendi, Ferragamo, Versace and Valentino, to name just a few, afford incredible amounts towards their marketing. The marketing is what makes the brand and the brand name is the single most important asset that they own. Nobody understands this better than the Italian fashion houses. There’s an ever-increasing amount of design labels out there all offering bespoke clothing of the highest possible quality, but what brings people back the major names is all down to marketing, both the quality and sheer quantity of advertising purchased by the brands.

Get off a plane or train in Italy and immediately you’ll see huge, visually arresting billboard ads for some of the major fashion houses. The skyline in Milan is literally dominated by sprawling advertising real estate selling bags, shows and lingerie. These companies have absolutely no qualms about splashing millions on the most lavish advertising you have ever seen, it sits well with the aspirational nature of what they sell.

But they work in a smarter and more cost-effective way online.

About 6 years ago, some of the big brands realised possibilities of content marketing and branded content. It started with a clamour for digital archives of the brands collections and advertising campaigns. It coincided perfectly with the ‘gold rush’ for social media followers. What the fashion brands quickly realised was that what they inspired in the followers was more like a fanatical zeal than a brand preference. People LOVE certain fashion brands and want to be associated with them however they can.

So we saw the emergence of countless brand-owned digital publications that provided quality content, aligned with the brand’s values. Products, collections and themes are promoted within the content, but the magazine reader is generally considered committed followers so overt pushing of the brand was not considered off-putting. Certainly, with brand-created content marketing Italian fashion brands are way ahead. When other industries follow suit, the opportunity for traditional publishers will be based on content curation and hosting rather than creation.

A major feature of Fashion labels’ house produced content of course is the online currency produced by their social following. Italy, probably more than any country has taken social media to its heart. While the Irish agonise over privacy issues and whether to share personal material or not, concerned about creating a false impression, the Italian has no reservations about growing their personal social network as broadly and quickly as possible. Shameless self-promotion and self-branding are very much in Vogue and simply by doing nothing in Italy you’ll find you are inundated with friend requests and follows from total strangers.

The personal network of contacts is a fundamental part of Italian family and business life. It’s not what you know, it’s who and almost all social activity is geared towards the accumulation of the right kind of contacts. It’s not mean or sneaky, everyone does it, and it’s just the way it is. So social media presents Italians with a great opportunity both to present themselves in a certain light and to grow the network. LinkedIn is on another level altogether.

So the Fashion houses have a wealth of bloggers and social influencers to choose from. These people are usually so pleased to be ‘endorsed’ by a big label that they will often jump through hoops for them. For the blogger and social media star, monetising their efforts represents a major challenge as they are susceptible to the very democratic nature of social media that in fact afforded them the opportunity.

There is always someone younger, keener and more desperate to make a name for themselves that they will work for the brand for free, being ‘endorsed’ by a major fashion brand is their key to credibility with their online following and this fact is not lost on the big houses.

In fact the last year has seen a big shift away from the bigger fashion labels supporting fashion bloggers. For example Dolce&Gabbana no longer invite fashion bloggers and social influencers to their fashion shows, reverting to the traditional fashion press. It keeps the show more ‘exclusive’ and ‘elite’ which is a hard earned currency in the fashion world. Condé Nast recently axed their ‘Blog Roll’ which hosted some of the most popular fashion bloggers and drove a lot of traffic their way.

So while the gap in product between the high street and the cat walk may be closing, the industry is becoming polarised, between the masses and the super elite. It’s very much indicative of the economic times we live in. But then again, it always has been, it’s fashion.

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