Fashion’s Night Out and Anna Wintour’s Jiu Jitsu Move

New York tonight will be taken over by Fashion’s Night Out, and this is a tip of the hat to Anna Wintour for one of the best acts of branded content jiu jitsu you could find.

Go back to early 2009. The 2008 financial crisis basically flushed down the toilet retail sales of all kinds — and certainly of higher-end fashion. Wintour is editor of Vogue, the bible of high-end fashion. As revenue for the fashion business shriveled, ads dried up in Vogue, threatening the magazine’s health.

To help her magazine, Wintour had to help the companies that buy ads in her magazine.

She dreamed up Fashion’s Night Out. The idea was to get retailers to fund and create a citywide event — not necessarily a marketing campaign, but more of a celebration. She got Mayor Michael Bloomberg to sign on. The stores invited celebrities. Gwen Stefani played at Bloomingdale’s. Boutique shops offered wine as DJs spun tunes.

It was an event, and events are certainly a type of content. People wanted to go, even if they weren’t in the mood to buy. But it got butts in stores, and the retailers felt it helped push their businesses in the right direction. At least they felt it helped enough to schedule a Fashion’s Night Out every year since then — and every year, it grows into a bigger and bigger Thing.

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Wintour played this perfectly. Vogue didn’t create the event content — the stores did. She convinced other people — the city, the retailers — to create branded content by arguing that it would help their bottom lines. Which it did. But downstream, it also helped Vogue‘s bottom line.

In 2009, Vogue‘s September issue looked like a deflated version of its usual self — thin and lacking in ads. The 2012 September issue got its mojo back. Once again, it’s as fat as a phonebook and lands on the doorstep with a confident thunk.

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