Marketing Dive: Inside American Eagle’s tie-up with ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’

By: Jessica Deyo | Link to article

CMO Craig Brommers details why the retailer partnered with stars of the Prime Video series and how it’s experimenting with Reels and Lemon8.

American Eagle is channeling sunshine and coastal vibes for its latest campaign and clothing collection, teaming up with the cast of coming-of-age drama “The Summer I Turned Pretty” to get Gen Z warm-weather ready ahead of the Amazon Prime Video series’ second season.

Aptly titled “The Summer of Us,” the campaign launched May 23 and boasts partnerships with actors Christopher BrineyGavin Casalegno and Lola Tung, the three stars of the Prime Video romance. The campaign is meant to promote human connection and will span in-store, American Eagle’s digital properties, including its website and mobile app, and the brand and talent’s social media channels through the end of the summer. The speciality retailer will also share custom content promoting its summer collection across TikTok, Instagram and Snap, along with experiments on Lemon8, which the brand recently joined.

The choice to partner with “The Summer I Turned Pretty” cast was a no-brainer, according to American Eagle CMO Craig Brommers, who took notice of the series’ cultural impact on the younger generation when it debuted last year. The show, which will release its second season on July 14, tells the story of a girl who finds herself in a love triangle with two brothers during what was supposed to be a perfect summer.

“(The show) has the spirit of the summer season, it has a spirit of getting outside and living out loud,” Brommers said. “The style of the show made it an obvious choice for AE.”

More specifically, the series possesses a sense of optimism — and a convenient appreciation for denim — that the retailer instills in its branding, the exec said. The campaign was designed with the goal of boosting the mood for Gen Z as the cohort continues to recover from feelings of loneliness and isolation spurred from pandemic restrictions.

“It’s about ‘us’ again, it’s about getting together again, it’s about that human connection that we’re all craving, but certainly Gen Z is craving,” Brommers continued.

American Eagle in the past has partnered with other shows popular among the younger generation, including Netflix’s “Stranger Things,” “Outer Banks” and “Never Have I Ever.” The brand also teamed up with “The Summer I Turned Pretty” last year around the holiday season to release two limited-edition garments. A focus on streaming falls under what Brommers describes as Gen Z “passion pillars,” with other focuses including music, gaming and community impact.

“I’m not sure if Gen Z knows what linear television is outside of maybe a live sporting event, but we do know they’re still heavy consumers of video, and not just TikTok, definitely heavy consumers of video on Netflix on Prime, Hulu and Disney,” Brommers said.

Summer of social

Among social media plans, American Eagle will share content on TikTok, which remains Gen Z’s favorite social platform, featuring “The Summer I Turned Pretty” cast members. Examples already shared include get-to-know-you style videos and playful challenges, with the content dually showcasing items from the summer collection.

The brand is also doubling down on its use of nano-creators, or those that command smaller followings, to promote products from its best-selling categories. When it comes to American Eagle’s creator strategy, Brommers describes a “top down, bottom up” approach, which includes partnering with larger creators at the top level for reach and utilizing those with mid-size and smaller followings to up the odds of more personal, values-driven introductions.

On Snapchat, the retailer will launch two augmented reality experiences. The first, called Selfie Mode, utilizes a randomizer technology to match consumers with a variety of outfit pairings that users can sport in their selfies. Another experience, called World View, pairs summer occasion backdrops with styled virtual mannequins to help provide users with outfit inspiration.

“The insight behind that is that kids are really also wanting versatility in their outfitting today, so from the beach to the bar or from day to night, we’re trying to showcase some of that versatility,” Brommers said.

Users on both Snapchat experiences can click-through to shop various styles on the brand’s website. American Eagle often utilizes Snap’s AR for its marketing, including through a recent partnership with ThredUp in April to launch RE/AE, an online resale shop, supplemented by a shoppable lens featuring styles from the collection. The brand also used the technology around its holiday promotional efforts in the past, with one such effort generating over $2 million in revenue.

Betting big on Meta

American Eagle is expanding its marketing muscle on Instagram for its summer collection promotion, utilizing Meta’s Creator Marketplace to produce a larger quantity of relevant Reels. Meta launched the Instagram Creator Marketplace last year to help brands connect more easily with talent. The retailer will also share content from its “The Summer I Turned Pretty” partnerships.

The concept for the brand’s Reels will draw inspiration from Apple’s AirDrop feature, which allows phone users in close proximity to drop files to one another. In the videos, creators receive an “AirDrop” of summer products. Once they’ve accepted the drop, they will quickly appear in the clothing within an on-theme destination.

The brand is leaning heavier into Reels than ever before, a decision encouraged by recent success, per Brommers.

“For us, the Meta performance over the last two quarters has been increasingly strong,” Brommers said. “I do wonder out loud if they’ve been refocusing on what they do best for specialty retailers like ourselves, and that’s really to drive business.”

Specifically, the team at American Eagle has observed that Reels are being fed into Instagram’s algorithm at a more elevated rate than still content, the exec continued. Meta’s revenue in the first quarter returned to positive growth following several quarters of declines, which chief executive Mark Zuckerberg credited to increased investments in artificial intelligence that boosted performance, including the monetization efficiency of Reels. People now reshare Reels posts more than 2 billion times daily.

Enter Lemon8

Aside from more concrete strategies across Instagram, TikTok and Snap, American Eagle last week officially made its foray on Lemon8, a budding social media platform owned by ByteDance, which also owns TikTok, that Brommers describes as “if Instagram and Pinterest had a baby.”

Only days in, American Eagle hasn’t yet identified an ideal strategy for the platform, though it will use it as an additional avenue to share content from its “Summer of Us” campaign. So far, the team has gathered that the platform is heavily skewed toward women, and will likely market to that audience accordingly, Brommers said, while counting on avenues like YouTube and gaming to reach its male audience.

American Eagle has often been quick to join new Gen Z social platforms. Last year, for example, it became one of the first to join “anti-Instagram” app BeReal. When it comes to Lemon8, Brommers said the team is taking a similar approach.

“Some of that humor and some of that honesty is something that seems to be connecting with Gen Z on some of these newer platforms,” Brommers said.

The exec is quick to admit that American Eagle doesn’t have it all figured out, especially when it comes to keeping up with whichever innovative social media platform comes next. However, as long as Gen Z stays curious, the brand will continue seeking out what’s new, next and unique.

“There’s such a sea of sameness out there and in economic times that are trickier to navigate, we’re finding out that if we stand out in a memorable way, we’re top of mind when that customer is ready to buy their shorts, buy their denim, whatever it is,” Brommers said.