Have you seen a skinny Vogue? No? Just rip out all of the advertisements out of the magazine. The article and graphics are the outcome of such intervention in the last year’s February Issue of the British Vogue. I wanted to see the amount of pages which create destruction while reading the glossy magazine. During a 5-days workshop, together with other students from MA Fashion Strategy we have discussed and analyzed content of the Vogue magazine in the context of a modern luxury.
V*gue - Advertisement Diet
The article and visuals are part of the bigger project called V*gue which we created as a generation 27, Fashion Strategy AM at the workshop with Femke de Vries. V*gue magazine is a Warehouse publication, designed by Corine van der Wal, in collaboration with Walter Books.
It’s enough to hold a Vogue in your hands just once, to learn that the opening pages of every issue are mostly advertisements of luxury brands. Only after 35 pages you’ll run into the colophon. It is a common fact that advertising, in many different types of media, is the main source of revenue. Within fashion media specifically, the revenue is determined by the involvement of luxury brands like Chanel, Armani and Saint Laurent, and it is undeniable that their involvement highly influences the content and determines the power structure of the magazine. As a result, magazines for example publish mainly commercially (luxury brand) tied content with a tone of voice that focuses on worshipping fashion from a consumer perspective rather than a (critical) journalistic perspective. The following case-study of British Vogue February issue (2018) dissects and maps the structure of a fashion magazine from the perspective of the powerful presence of commercial partners. This dissection is translated into a visual overview of the magazine that shows the spreads with the placement of advertisements, texts, images and editorials. Because the luxury-brand advertisements on the opening pages are very dominant I’ve decided to focus on these specific brands and their product placement throughout the rest of the magazine. With this approach I hope to underline the involvement of commercial luxury brands throughout the content of the magazine and to give an insight into the commercial power-structure of Vogue.
Firstly, I counted the amount of adds inside the magazine. Secondly, I ripped out every page on which a brand is being promoted. My initial aim was to make a distinction between text, article, advertisement images and editorials. However, during the process of tracking the adverts I got lost inside the sponsored content and consequently asked myself where I should draw the line between content, text, article and advertising. The most confusing case is the ‘advertorial’: when magazines use a template based on their design style to create an advert for a brand. Since these carefully designed ‘supportive editorial atmospheres’ aim to place the merchandising in the magazine in a nondestructive manner, it requires a thorough reading to recognize the commercial character. On the other hand, it is easily identified by a tiny title in the top-right corner which says ‘Vogue partner’, meaning that the brand has paid Vogue about £6000 for these two pages (as can be found on the Conde Nast webpage Vogue media kits & rate cards).
Although this is just one example of all the sponsored content that can be found in the magazine, it strikingly reveals the strong interlinkage of commercial interest in something that seems to offer genuine content. Generally, this dominant interference of commercial partners leaves very little hope for independent, critical content. The fact that the brands featured on the opening pages were repeatedly featured in editorials throughout the magazine wasn’t surprising, it was however, quite disproportional. For example; Chanel bought 6 advertising pages (which approximately cost £115 320) and the back (outside) of the cover which is the most expensive page in the magazine (£46 220). Besides that, Chanel was mentioned 11 times in editorials throughout the magazine. While both Giorgio Armani and Max Mara bought 4 pages each, Armani products where mentioned twice as much as Max Mara’s. Intuitively, I was expecting to find out that the particular amount of advertisement pages purchased by a brand would have a concrete correlation to the number of product placements by this same brand throughout the rest of the magazine, but this wasn’t the case. In fact, Prada, Tiffany and Saint Laurent bought the same amount of commercial space but in the editorial pages Prada’s items were mentioned 16 times, Saint Laurent 8 times, while Tiffany’s showed up only 2 times. So, what is the driving force between the difference in appearance of the brands throughout the magazine? A possible explanation can be found on page 173 of the magazine. This is the page where you can find the contact information of the shops that have these brands or items in their assortment and thus sell the items featured in the editorial. This made me realise that the boutique owners are the go-between involved in shaping sponsored editorial content. As a result, we could say that one of the forces that shape the commercial content of the magazine are brands who buy pages for regular advertising and another force would be the shops that actually sell the items that are featured in the editorial parts. To make it easier for the reader to buy the featured items, the magazine actually publishes phone numbers and websites of particular shops in the country. This page, with the contact information of the shops, also openly unravels the mixed message of advertorials. It shows directly that the items mentioned in the advertorial are for sale and thus presents us with the underlying goal of such an article.
While I was dissecting the magazine from the perspective of commercial partners, the role of text also came to the fore. Personally, I have always found Vogue literally hard to read, and this research made me aware that I couldn’t focus on the text because of, on the one hand, the purposely strong visual distraction and secondly because of the missing page numbers. Another remark about text in magazines, that goes beyond the structure of the pages, is the fact that text in fashion media is mainly used to dictate the reader what to wear, how to live and where to buy all the ‘luxury necessities’. We are, of course, talking about a lifestyle magazine and not a magazine of critique, but still I wonder: do these commercial magazines ever use text to create genuine ‘readable’ content or is text used only to create an ‘intellectual air’? This use of text underlines that it’s Vogue’s aim to seduce the reader with a fashion dream about a luxury life. Upholding this fashion dream or fashion myth is an old game which makes people believe that purchasing new clothing will transform their life into a fairy tale. Being aware of this, I find it crucial to stress that this communication strategy, as used by the most renowned fashion magazines in the world, is undermining the potential of fashion. I personally believe that fashion is not only about disproportionately expensive clothing that makes you feel special and exclusive, it is in fact the perfect vehicle for great analysis of the current state of society and culture.
Although we already knew that Vogue, the fashion myth-maker, was born to encourage readers to buy luxury fashion products and not to educate them with intellectual content, this research clearly visualizes the involvement and effects of the presence of brands throughout the magazine. And while trying to get an insight into the commercial dominance of luxury brands in the magazine, I bumped into one of the most interesting and unexpected finding: 11 out of 60 commercial pages were used to promote brands that belong to Conde Nast, the publisher of Vogue itself... Is Vogue an advertisement magazine for itself? I was amazed by the broad range of items promoted: from Vogue fashion courses and books to Vogue cafe. My favourite Vogue advertising is the one with the Vogue colouring book.