Brides magazine has spent the past six years working on ways to better engage its loyal readers and integrate them into a total brand experience. The solution: the Brides Live Wedding—a successful annual experiential program that’s not only engaging its readership, but also creating nice returns for its partners.
The premise is straightforward: Brides selects a soon-to-be married couple to participate in the program, and readers then join in on the planning process by voting on various aspects of the wedding itself—from decor themes and honeymoon locations to bridesmaid’s dresses and hairstyles.
“This is different than seeing something on social media; you’re actually interacting with it, which I think makes it a much more valuable thing—both for [readers] and for our advertisers,” says Lisa Gooder, executive director of editorial at Brides. “They’re really weighing in and getting excited for it. We hear from our advertisers how much they want to be involved in a social experience with us and how it gives them an opportunity to become really engaged.”
Part of Brides Live Wedding’s success comes from following its readers to the platforms that they are on the most, which in previous years included Facebook and Youtube. But this year, Instagram—specifically its Stories platform—has become the new home for BLW categorical voting and direct audience contact, as the pre-selected bride-to-be—Janelle Lloyd—just so happens to be an Instagram influencer with more than 65,000 followers of her own.
“In this age, Instagram has become such a primary spot for us in terms of engagement and we really know our advertisers want to be a part of that,” Gooder tells Folio:. “In this case, it made sense to have someone who was a good Instagrammer.”
Following Janelle to her home platform of Instagram was the most lucrative path for Brides, as in past years, when the BLW bride was YouTuber Elle Fowler and the bulk of the program took place on that platform.
“We’ve done this with a Youtube person, we’ve done this with an audience member that we found through Facebook, but we found that when we leverage the platform that each person comes from, it kind of takes on a life of its own,” adds Gooder.
Beyond social media, however, the program uniquely integrates itself within all of Brides’ platforms (including the print magazine), fully engaging subscription readers and website visitors. And it is this well-engaged audience that appeals to the advertisers and sponsors who see value in aligning themselves with Brides‘ programs.
“The advertisers are interested because the consumers are interested,” says Alison Moore, chief business officer of the Beauty Collection at Condé Nast and revenue lead for Brides. “It has that same power of reality television, and that is really alluring from a consumer perspective. That’s the kind of thing that brands want to be a part of, because it’s organic and authentic.”
The ad-buy model is based around selling elements of a wedding. For instance, Sexy Hair is the sponsor for the hairstyle category and worked with the Brides editorial team to create four hairstyles, from which readers will pick one for Janelle to wear at her wedding. This partnership model extends across the other categories, including menswear from Men’s Wearhouse and a gift registry at Crate & Barrel.
While the wedding comes at no cost to the couple, Brides invests heavily in the big day.
“This is that kind of thing that we’ve done year after year and it’s been extremely successful for us, so there is a level of investment that we provide to kind of foundationally build on that,” says Moore. “Sponsors, of course, are helpful, certainly in the revenue portion of it—making the whole revenue experience dimensionally better.”
Video is another aspect of the program, and it provides the audience with an inside look of the planning process. It’s also another opportunity for sponsorship.
“Video has been a major component,” says Gooder. “For the first [BLW], we did a live stream on Facebook—this was before Facebook Live existed and Instagram live and all that—and that was amazing because we sort of had this television show that was happening, reaching our audience.”
Working with Condé Nast Entertainment, the wedding video package is set to be released at some point in September, just under a month after the wedding itself in August. Gooder says that the video component provides the emotional aspect of the program that solidifies the audience’s investment and extends reader interest in the program further into the year.
Additionally, an integration with print that will feature the couple’s wedding in a full spread adds the additional appeal for subscribers and newsstand readers.
As for next year’s BLW, Gooder says it’s too soon to predict how similar the interactive portion will be to this year’s, regardless of how successful the engagement has been on Instagram. “To be honest, social media moves so quickly that it’s hard to know next year what Instagram will be like. A year ago, we might have said Snapchat. We’ll have to wait and see.”