DTC brands are in the spotlight at Advertising Week

Advertising Week, now in its 15th year, has long been a way for big brands like Disney and MasterCard to take center stage. But this year, these established marketers are being joined by leaders in the crop of modern digital-native companies often called direct-to-consumer brands.

About 27 DTC companies, nearly twice as many as last year, are in attendance this year — from mattress trendsetter Casper to toothbrush subscription service Quip. Over the past couple of years, they’ve been slowly creeping into Advertising Week schedules. Last year, about 14 DTC brands, among them HelloFresh, Boxed and Warby Parker, appeared on panels on topics DTC companies excel in like innovation and personalization.

“Collectively, DTC brands are disrupting traditional commerce,” said Lance Pillersdorf, co-founder and president of Advertising Week organizer Stillwell Partners. “Advertising Week attendees want to learn how their brands can cut through the clutter from the best players in the game. With technology becoming as important a conversation to advertising as the advertising itself, that opportunity is finally here.”

Seeing their success, traditional retailers have already been adapting DTC strategies to their own playbooks. Nike’s SNKS app released earlier this year is one example, Pillersdorf said. With the app, Nike is able to reduce the number of retailers it works with and focus on selling direct-to-consumer.

Other large retailers have edged their way into the DTC space with similar moves. Designer brands like Theory and Milly have created specialty lines sold entirely through their own channels rather than go the wholesale route. Even GoPro, which continues to sell through Amazon and eBay, is making direct-to-consumer plays a priority.

These brands understand that selling through their own channels gives them the advantage of obtaining first-party data, giving them the necessary insights to help grow their companies. “A sale on Amazon is just a sale for us, but a sale through gopro.com is a relationship,” Kathy Ando, head of e-commerce at GoPro, told Digiday.

How to bring personalized experiences into the physical retail landscape is another lesson traditional retailers are deriving from the disrupters. Over the past year, DTC companies have been opening their own brick-and-mortars to complement their online offerings at a rapid pace, while traditional retailers have struggled.

“The brands that began and still are direct-to-consumer have been able to be more nimble and innovative about bringing those experiences to life,” said Lindsay Bressler, vp of finance and operations at DTC maternity retailer Hatch Collection, who will be speaking at Advertising Week for the first time during the “How smart retailers drive commerce with content” session.

While larger companies are likely to take away some pointers from DTC-focused panels, the DTC companies themselves are looking to gather bits of wisdom from one another. “Being at Advertising Week with other DTC brands gives us a chance to discuss opportunities and challenges and learn from each other,” said Fabian Seelbach, svp of marketing at  Curology.

Curology, which is making its Advertising Week debut on the panel “Coming of age: Millennials and marketers on Snapchat,” also sees its attendance at the event as a chance to get its company in front of prospective employees. “Curology is growing so fast that finding the best talent is time-consuming process,” said Seelbach.

Seelbach said to continue to expect DTC companies to appear at events like Advertising Week. He said, “Our wave of DTC brands has reached the scale where active participation in industry events will be the new normal.”


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