Brian Sugar has ambitious plans for PopSugar.com, a celebrity news and pop culture media platform he founded with his wife, Lisa Sugar, some seven years ago.
Specifically, he wants to drive more than $1 billion in sales next year to retail partners through ShopStyle, PopSugar.com’s content and commerce offshoot it acquired in 2007. That figure’s not too out-of-reach, judging from his latest tally.
“This year, we’ll drive over $700 million in gross retail sales, which is fairly significant from where we came from last year,” he said. “We did a little over $400 million last year. We really wanted to take the next step, which was to raise brand awareness at the household” level.
To pull it off PopSugar has made a $25 million investment in its first national paid media campaign, “We Search, We Find, We ShopStyle,” orchestrated by Media Storm and creative agency Sub Rosa, spanning broadcast, print, digital and outdoor channels.
ShopStyle’s first television spot aired Monday night on "2 Broke Girls," which Sugar said nails its “target” demographic of young women, while still maintaining mass appeal to match men’s, kids' and home categories.
“Our research showed that one of the primary activities you do after you find ShopStyle is that you tell a friend about ShopStyle,” Sugar said. “We wanted to really capture that and translate that into all of the different mediums. On TV, it’s a fun day in the life of these two women going through their day and a problem arises that they see and you suspend belief for just a moment and we demonstrate how quick, easy and fun ShopStyle is through your desktop, your iPad or your mobile in getting the stuff that you want.”
Mobile’s been massive for the brand. Now amassing more than 20 million monthly unique visitors to its properties, Sugar said one-third of all traffic now stems from mobile devices and tablets. Despite the traffic it drives, conversion to purchase remains a challenge on mobile devices. Retailers, however, are driving advancements in checkout (and third parties like Facebook are pushing autofill payments for mobile), which soon could “make the conversion rate almost on par with what you see on desktop.”
Every effort to build PopSugar brand affinity to date has been organic. “We really started with just owned [media] and wanted to create fantastic content people wanted to interact with and shared links,” Sugar noted. “Then, we started doing earned and bartered with our partners because we wanted to grow with everyone else.”
He added, “We’re at a point now where, fortunately, we’ve had such tremendous success [in earned and owned media] that we can take the profits we’re making [and putting it back into paid media] so that our brand, over time, will be worth more and more.”
Sugar Publishing has raised $46 million to date, with Sequoia Capital leading the initial investment round, followed by Institutional Venture Partners, which came in with a later-stage round worth $15 million in 2011. Sugar said the company has been “profitable” for several years now, operating offices now in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, London and Chicago.
PopSugar this summer expanded its team and brought on Guthy-Renker’s Colette Dill-Lerner as EVP of performance marketing and SpinMedia’s Chris George to serve as VP of marketing solutions. Dill-Lerner, Sugar noted, has been driving end-of-the-funnel performance to “make sure ShopStyle advertisements are at the right place at the right time for the right person” through search and social. Sugar says he foresees PopSugar’s new efforts in performance marketing only being “amplified” by the brand campaign.
Although Dill-Lerner noted that the brand is looking “at the campaign holistically” rather than by individual media type, Sugar said that mobile and video are two hot areas on the investment roadmap. “When we started this business, we thought that we’d be like Condé Nast and Time Inc., but we view ourselves much more like a cable channel because video has become such a big part of what we create,” he said.
There are plans to significantly scale the content and commerce scope of ShopStyle. Through dedicated logins, users have access to features like “Favorites” and “Sale Alerts” that can be narrowed to size, brand and category; this, in turn, generates intent data for each individual. “Once [consumers] sign up for that account, we have exclusives we do with retail partners and we know it’s you so we can create a much more personalized experience.”