Inside American Eagle's holiday social media strategy – Marketing Dive

The Gen Z retailer looks to immerse consumers in celebrations as company research found this holiday season is all about “revenge living.”
More immersive, more clever, more engaging — there’s no exact science to American Eagle’s social media strategy this holiday season, though, in the chase for its quick-paced Gen Z consumer base, CMO Craig Brommers says a go-big mentality could be the gift that keeps on giving.
Indeed, this year the retailer is ramping up its activations across social media and the metaverse with the launch of three virtual, shoppable experiences on Snapchat, a themed holiday market and expanded presence on Roblox and a holiday card hashtag challenge on TikTok meant to bring the community together and spread much-needed holiday cheer. 
The emphasis on augmented reality and immersion this year was reaffirmed by brand research polling consumers aged 15-25 that found the young demographic is approaching the holiday season with a “revenge living” mindset, or looking to make up for time lost from pandemic-dominated years. 
“Too many holiday celebrations have been taken away from [Gen Z] over the last two years, and nothing is getting in the way of them in terms of the holiday with their friends and their community,” Brommers said.
As social commerce continues to rise in popularity, American Eagle found itself as an early adopter to innovative tactics used to reach social media’s dominating younger demographic, and the payoff is what helped lock-in this season’s largely-immersive holiday plans. For example, Brommers pointed to the success of its Snapchat augmented reality stores, which allow users to virtually shop for and try on various outfits that they can then purchase. On average, each variation of its virtual stores on Snapchat have generated about $2 million in revenue.
“Inside of a $5 billion dollar company that may not sound that impressive but it does tell you that if you’re targeting Gen Z, you’re in the attention economy and you’re in the entertainment business and these immersive experiences seem to be something Gen Z is excited by,” Brommers said.
This year’s holiday season will see a larger investment in the Snapchat activation that will launch Nov. 2 and include three virtual, shoppable stores that will be reset for various themes throughout the holiday window: Outdoor Adventure, Friends Getaway and Holiday Party. Within each, there will be around 20 different items that can be shopped by using the front-facing camera to explore.
Early days of American Eagle’s Snapchat shopping features came during the 2020 holiday season with the launch of its first virtual store, which quickly saw 20 million people engage with it. In February last year, the brand launched its Jeans Are Forever campaign with a Snapchat tie-in to create the AE x Snapchat AR Jeans Guide, a feature that allowed users to learn about specific washes and fits for jeans featured in the experience. Its fall 2021 campaign also had heavy ties to the platform, with consumers at that point having the ability to take a photo of themselves and virtually “dress themselves” to see how a product would fit
And while some brands continue to test and experiment with the metaverse, others like American Eagle are making a bigger commitment. In January, the retailer added a director of metaverse marketing to its in-house team that strategizes the brand’s metaverse presence. The company this spring joined Roblox’s Livetopia world and launched its “AE Members Always Club” where users can virtually try on American Eagle clothes. 
Roblox was a major touchpoint for Brommers during an Advertising Week New York panel discussion titled, “Pay no attention to attention” during which the exec discussed the potential on Roblox, pointing to numbers that include over 30 million clothing try-ons within its virtual experience. American Eagle has also risen as the second most visited brand on the platform, second only to Gucci, he said.
“Roblox way exceeded my expectations for engagement,” Brommers said. 
American Eagle for the holiday season is banking further on the virtual platform, but this time via a value-based, loyalty program tie-in that will, hopefully, help the retailer better track return on investment, an aspect of the metaverse that has proven difficult. On Nov. 18 the brand will launch a virtual holiday market within Roblox’s winter-scaped world, Mt. Crescent, where it will also become the exclusive fashion retailer, Brommers said. For the first time, the brand will offer interactive challenges for players to have the opportunity to win a $5 gift card through its Real Rewards loyalty program, offering a value exchange for players in the trade off for valuable data.
“What you’re seeing is this transition here at AE from [Roblox being a] fun place to test and learn and try new things to, ‘Is there a real commercial value here? And what does our community react to?’” Brommers said.
As for TikTok, American Eagle from Nov. 19-21 will roll out a hashtag challenge giving creators the chance to make a holiday card — encouraging users to stage their backgrounds, outfits, and invite friends, family or pets — for the chance to win printed versions of their cards and a gift card. The challenge is in pursuit of forming an authentic connection with the community, Brommers said, and to help make up for the lost holiday spirit during COVID-19 years. 
“We use hashtag challenges selectively,” he said. “We’re not always out there with hashtag challenges, but when we do it, it tends to be around really big moments of storytelling for our brand or really big moments in retail.” 
When used sparingly, the tactic can be a knockout. For example, American Eagle in August debuted its back-to-school campaign that included the brand’s first-to-be-done activation of TikTok’s SoundOn feature, which allows artists to upload their own music directly to the platform to earn royalties, as well as a #AEJeansSoundOn hashtag challenge that required users to upload a music video while wearing American Eagle Jeans for the chance to win a $3,000 gift card and have the video appear on the brand’s Times Square billboard. In the end, 1.5 million videos were created using the hashtag, marking its most successful hashtag challenge to date in terms of views, likes, shares, video creations and comments. 
As it continues to keep up with innovative social media strategies, American Eagle just a few weeks ago became the latest and one of the largest brands to join BeReal, joining others in the space that include beauty brand e.l.f. Cosmetics and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
BeReal, the “anti-Instagram” social media platform, just topped 53 million installs, though is slow-pacing when it comes to daily use. Still, it expanded rapidly this year as Gen Z continues to look to less planned, more authentic digital engagement, challenging brands that deal with the young generation to ditch the script in favor of embracing being candid. 
American Eagle started discussing joining BeReal earlier this year when the app became the number one top downloaded app in Apple’s App Store, but took time to strategically plan how to make the activation feel genuine and give users something of value, Brommers said. When the retailer announced it had entered the app, it posted on Instagram playfully about uncertainty surrounding how it would go.
“The angle was: ‘This could be a train wreck, we’re not quite sure how this is going to go over,’” Brommers said. 
Within 48 hours, American Eagle reached the 1,000 follower threshold on the platform, a limited number that could pose a challenge for brands looking to extend their reach. For those followers, the retailer each day drops an exclusive promotion for a specific item, a tactic that Brommers said has driven engagement well beyond that of others, which went unnamed, who are using the platform.
“From what we can tell, our engagement on the platform is 300% higher than the beauty brands that are on the platform,” he said. 
For the holidays, Brommers said the brand has tossed around ideas including a notable creator or influencer making an appearance when it’s “Time to BeReal,” sneak peaks at future collaborations or perhaps a Black Friday-timed engagement. However, as BeReal is so new to American Eagle, the retailer is for now reacting in live time to what community response is.
“We’ll play around with a bunch of different ideas — we’re going to read and react,” Brommers said.
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Marriott’s push to sell more digital advertising marked a first for the hospitality industry, but marketers shouldn’t be surprised if verticals from airlines to financial services follow suit. 
With ad spending expected to take a hit in the fourth quarter, the streamer has a lot to prove, though it’s already attracted major names like AB InBev.
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