Madonna's cone bra? Click to buy it.April 11, 2012: 12:00 PM ET
Fashion brands and publishers have been in the vanguard of blending content and commerce. Now, a Canadian e-tailer wants to make music videos shop-able.
By Anthonia Akitunde, contributor
FORTUNE -- Couture has long had a starring role in music videos, from Madonna's Jean Paul Gaultier-designed cone bra to Lady Gaga's Alexander McQueen-proffered armadillo shoes. Now, a Canadian e-tailer thinks it can take the relationship a step further by making it easy to buy pieces right from popular clips.
SSENSE, based in Montreal, debuted its first shopping-enabled music video, "I Think She Ready," online last week. It features all the typical hallmarks of hip hop music videos, from stylized slow motion to snarled lips. The difference? Viewers can click the video's outfits and accessories to purchase them. Fashion brands and publishers have been at the forefront of blending content and commerce, from traditional women's magazines, like Conde Nast's Glamour, which recently teamed up with flash sale site Fab.com to innovative retailers such as Gilt Groupe, which have created editorial products.
In the video, Australian rapper Iggy Azalea and an Atlanta duo called Fki strut around downtown Los Angeles, wearing items like a sternum-baring $620 Helmut Lang dress and a $3,310 Givenchy leather jacket, along with more than 130 other designer pieces. Users can, for example, hover their cursor over the pair of sunglasses Fki member First is wearing to reveal an interactive tag that reads "Shop This Look." Clicking that pauses the video and brings up a window breaking down First's look by item and designer. Clicking on an item opens SSENSE's website, where the $150 glasses made by Italian brand Super can be purchased.
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Music videos have long been a loss leader intended to drive sales of records and singles. They have also emerged as an attractive place for brands to push their products. Companies paid an estimated $20 million to appear in music videos in 2010, up 7% from 2009, according to marketing analytics firm PQ Media. "I Think She Ready" marked an attempt from SSENSE to capitalize on the growing use of interactive video in fashion, says Peter Hellyer, SSENSE's creative director. "Interactive runway shows, look books and moving editorials have all become part of fashion houses' online retail strategy," he says. "We knew that we wanted to create something completely unique and find an angle that had not been worked before."
Yet the shop-able video isn't an entirely new concept, says Andrea Derricks of Luxury Lab Think Tank L2. "Brands such as Gucci, Hugo Boss, and Calvin Klein have been releasing shop-able videos since early 2011. And Bergdorf Goodman has leveraged shop-able videos to curate 'looks' that incorporate multiple brands and link directly to commerce."
SSENSE looked to wireWAX, an online tool that's available for public use, to make the interactive music video. The tool uses "motion-tracking hotspot technology [that] follows moving images around the screen and creates tags that can then be interacted with," explains Hellyer. (This can be challenging when images appear in rapid sequence.) Other fashion brands, such as Nike (NKE) and Tommy Hilfiger, have already partnered with the UK-based company to create interactive videos for their brands. SSENSE appears to be the first to use such technology with the traditional music video format.
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WireWAX's technology lets brands see how and where users are interacting with the content. On the front end, users can see how many times an item has been viewed. For brands, wireWAX tracks "more information than we can physically show," says Dan Garraway, co-founder of wireWAX. The technology knows how long a user's cursor hovers over an item, tracks mouse movement, what tags they are clicking on and if those clicks convert into sales. "The whole viewer journey is being recorded," Garraway says.
Like regular online videos, "I Think She Ready" can be embedded on other sites and blogs. "Wherever that video is there's the potential for people to make a purchase of the products right there within the video without having to go to ssense.com to do that," Garraway says. SSENSE's CEO Rami Atallah believes the clip is unique for blending technology, entertainment and retail.
It could also cut the amount of time spent searching for what viewers' favorite artists are wearing. "If this SSENSE video had gone out without wireWAX, you would have expected the audience to watch the video, then potentially go to Google (GOOG), search for SSENSE, potentially find the product on their website on their e-commerce system, and then get to the point where they would buy it," says Dan Garraway. "You're bringing that potential 10-12 clicks down to one click."
But does it boost sales? The hashtag #IThinkSheReady was trending on Twitter and the site saw a 20% uplift in visitors when the video launched on April 4, Atallah reports. Fans of Iggy Azalea, Fiki and star producer Diplo (who makes cameos in the video) also brought attention to the video through shares and comments. Atallah isn't releasing sales figures.
Still, more than 100,000 people viewed the video when it launched. "At this point, it appears that the main benefit of shop-able videos is PR buzz, rather than actual sales results," says Derricks of L2. "However, over time, brands that are experimenting with this technology will have a head start on understanding how to break down the wall between content and commerce."