For more than half a decade, personal style bloggers have been hawking products in their feeds — endorsing goods or services because they love them, or, increasingly, because they're paid to. In the early days, these kinds of endorsements (often described as sponsored, branded or native content) were pretty simple: A blogger might get paid a fee to wear and/or write a post about a particular handbag or mascara, and/or receive a small percentage of the proceeds of sales made via that post. But as social media becomes ever more important to brands, such campaigns are becoming more extensive and elaborate, often including all-expenses-paid trips to far-flung locales.
Los Angeles-based e-tailer Revolve Clothing has been a forerunner of this model, gathering an impressive roster of top-ranked style bloggers and models — often including The Blonde Salad’s Chiara Ferragni, Rumi Neely of Fashion Toast and Julie Sarinana of Sincerely Jules — in places like Austin, Texas (for South by Southwest), Dubrovnik, Croatia (just because), and Punta Mita, Mexico (ditto). Such press trips are nothing new: Major fashion and beauty brands, like Chanel and P&G Prestige, have been ferrying print editors to international destinations for decades. But thanks to social media, companies like Revolve have been able to transform this long-running (and slightly tired) format into dynamic live marketing events. Outfitted in clothing available to buy on Revolve's website, influencers will attend dinners, musical performances and lounge oceanside (location permitting), documenting the whole experience on their social media channels, often with links to purchase the pieces they're wearing. Revolve will run many of those same images on its own feeds, as well.
For Revolve, these trips are a way to put their clothes "in the context of how our customer would aspire to wear them," says Raissa Gerona, vice president of brand marketing and strategic partnerships at the e-tailer, which has built a $400-million/year business selling trendy clothing to stylish, social media-savvy young women. "We show our customer not only how to wear a dress, but also where you would wear that dress and how that dress accentuates your personality, all in one image." Customers can imagine, too, how they might document their own selves in those clothes on social media, using the #RevolveMe hashtag, she says.
Revolve isn't the only fashion brand hosting these kinds of trips. Since 2010, the Italian e-tailer Luisaviaroma has invited a host of digital influencers to Florence for its biannual Firenze4Ever celebration for three days of music, food and creative collaboration. The shoe brand Soludos ferried Sincerely Jules's Julie Sarinana to the Amalfi Coast last summer, and Jimmy Choo brought Aimee Song, the LA-based interior designer and blogger behind Song of Style, to Switzerland to promote its latest moon boots in November. And there is, of course, the proliferation of resort shows hosted by major luxury fashion brands such as Dior, Chanel and LVMH, which generate thousands of promotional images from the social media accounts of the editors, models, celebrities and other VIPs in attendance.
It's not just fashion brands getting in on the action. Over the past 18 months, a growing number of travel brands have begun working with style bloggers, too, from hotel chains to airlines to tourism bureaus. When JW Marriott opened its luxurious new hotel in Los Cabos in January, the company flew 14 influencers, including Song and Danielle Bernstein of We Wore What, to document the opening. By partnering with these influencers, the company was able "to allow the property experience to become personal and really relevant," says Christy Donato, senior director and global brand lead of JW Marriott Hotels and Resorts. "Us showing beautiful pictures of lobbies and restaurants does not go as far as someone personalizing that space, of being there and sipping that first cocktail at sunset."
Between plane tickets and hotel accommodations, elaborate dinners and Instagram-worthy activities, these trips don't run cheap. But compared to what it might cost a brand to shoot a standard ad campaign — which involves, at minimum, schlepping a model, hairstylist, makeup artist, director, stylist, photographer, photographer's assistant, videographer and local guide to a picturesque location — not to mention what it might cost to buy the number of impressions a top influencer gets in a single Instagram post, these brands are getting a lot more for their dollar, Song of Style's Aimee Song argues. "If you take three to four influential bloggers somewhere, you're going to see a lot more impressions than one magazine story [or ad campaign]," she says, adding that, unlike print ads and editorials, everything worn by influencers on such trips is available for immediate purchase and can be traced back to the influencer.
When evaluating the ROI of these trips, brands say they are more concerned with generating engagement on social media than actual sales. "We can see the engagement rates of other luxury brands in the space, and we benchmark our results against those," Donato explains. Raissa says the trips have helped bolster Revolve’s social media presence, particularly on Instagram, and that social media "contributes millions of dollars in revenue per year."
For influencers, brand-sponsored trips present opportunities to develop unique and beautiful content experiences, reach new audiences, and in some cases, get paid. A less influential blogger might be sent to capture a trip on their social feeds in exchange for travel accommodations and free clothes, but a top influencer can command four figures for a single three- to five-day trip, according to Karen Robinovitz, co-founder of talent management agency Digital Brand Architects. A more extensive partnership involving multiple trips might net mid-six figures, she says. JW Marriott, for its part, says that paying for accommodation and travel is the starting point, and that "in some cases there are fees on top depending on [the influencer's] reach."
To an observer, the life of a well-dressed blogger seems to be getting more fabulous by day, involving a slick rotation of beautiful clothes, perfectly appointed apartments and luxurious vacations. But make no mistake: these trips involve a lot of work. "When they're there, these girls are location scouting, changing outfits, taking photos, and many of them are traveling with a photographer that they pay and for retouching," Robinovitz points out. "If I'm being compensated, I obviously want to do a really good job, so it's not really a vacation, though I try to enjoy whatever I'm doing," Song adds. As brands across the spectrum invest more in influencer campaigns, expect more — and ever more envy-inducing — trips to come.
Homepage photo: Julie Sarinana/Sincerely Jules