American Eagle is betting on back-to-school with its biggest physical activation investment since the start of the pandemic. Running in NYC on September 16-17, the “OMJeans” campaign features a 3D billboard in Times Square and an in-person shoppable denim exhibition of hundreds of mannequins that are posed on NYC’s High Line walkway and wearing the brand’s jeans. The campaign elements also offer an opportunity for attendees to sign up for the AE Real Rewards Credit Card, partake in giveaways and enjoy entertainment.
For American Eagle, denim has historically been the main focus category for back-to-school marketing, as it’s also where most of its sales come from during the season, according to a brand spokesperson.
“Denim is hot right now,” said Craig Brommers, CMO of American Eagle. “With New York Fashion Week and the U.S. Open just finishing, it’s just a great moment [in NYC] to host this event. The High Line is also the most high-profile pedestrian walkway in New York City, and we wanted to do something disruptive, different and never-before-seen.” Along with wearing jeans, the models in the exhibit feature a QR code driving to a shopping experience.
As for the Times Square 3D billboard, it’s positioned above the brand’s store. The brand’s most popular denim styles appear to jump out of the ad and dance for the crowd. “OMJeans” is a play on “OMG.”
In addition, American Eagle is hosting denim-themed photo opps along the High Line, as well as a denim-clad mannequin takeover of the 10th Avenue Amphitheater. QR codes facilitating easy shopping are accessible at each touchpoint.
“Because [our shopper] skews young, we need to have an activation that also incorporates technology,” said Brommers. “As Gen Z is always with their phone and always interacting in a phygital way, those QR codes and the 3D billboard will give people that experience and the opportunity to engage with jeans in other ways, as well.”
He added, “We wanted people who experience this activation to walk away with the breadth and depth of the AE jeans offering, especially since AE jeans are the No. 1-selling jeans for Gen Z,” said Brommers, referencing the company’s own market data.
On September 6, American Eagle Outfitters, which owns American Eagle and Aerie, reported a small year-over-year increase in its total net revenue in the second quarter of fiscal 2023, reaching $1.2 billion.
Also included in the High Line activation are areas to sign up for American Eagle’s credit card, hosted in partnership with finance company Synchrony. Those who sign up during the event get exclusive rewards and entry into denim- and travel-focused raffles.
“Credit card sign-ups may interest some consumers, but many shoppers will be reluctant to take on additional credit at a time when interest rates are very high and they are facing a lot of financial pressures,” said retail analyst Neil Saunders.
“We’ve been trying to go beyond earn-and-burn points and create unique experiences for our members,” said Brommers. “Travel is an important component of Gen Z’s lifestyle right now. We had a trip giveaway during our ‘The Summer I Turned Pretty’ collab this summer that was hugely successful, and we wanted to continue the ideas of travel and exploration.”
According to Brommers, the collaboration with the Amazon series was the brand’s most successful collaboration ever, both in terms of social media impressions and sales. He declined to share exact details.
The NYC High Line event also features free giveaways and a performance by dancer Kenzie Zeigler, who, along with her sister Maddie, collaborated with AE on a limited collection in July. The brand beat its forecast for the campaign by a double-digit percentage, and the jeans in the collection were among the company’s best-sellers for fall.
The “OMJeans” campaign is being marketed across AE’s social channels and in OOH marketing beyond the Times Square billboard, including on live subway boards across NYC.
AE is now considering how to repurpose the campaign’s elements. Following the exhibit, it will recycle all denim featured via Cotton’s Blue Jeans “Go Green” denim collection program. The denim will be then transformed into insulation for non-profit Habitat for Humanity and other applications. AE has collaborated with the program since 2008 and has recycled over 600,000 pieces of denim.