This week, a look at how brand engagement in the #RushTok trend has evolved and which strategies are working. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
For college students, the back-to-school season often entails campus tours, branded gear and rush recruitment. This year, brands got in on the action through #RushTok, AR immersive experiences and campaigns featuring college football stars.
This year, outfit-of-the-day videos tagged “#BamaRush” began flooding social media in July, letting up by the end of August as sorority and fraternity recruitment season wrapped. In the videos, pledges list the brands they’re wearing from head to toe, sometimes even including their perfume. Through dedicated gifting and influencer partnerships, brands including Kendra Scott and Wrangler have actively participated for a couple of years now, leveraging new strategies every season to stay top of mind.
#BamaRush, pointing to rush season at The University of Alabama, first gained popularity on TikTok in 2021, as sorority-assigned videos of pledges doing dance routines and describing their OOTDs hit the platform. HBO made a documentary about it called “Bama Rush,” which was released in May. The hashtag on TikTok now has 3.3 billion views, while #RushTok has 1.5 billion. The views have grown annually, with even international viewers becoming interested in the college recruitment process, according to TikTok comments.
Since 2021, Kendra Scott, Lululemon, Wrangler and Cartier have been among the most featured brands in #RushTok videos. Incidentally, in 2023, Lululemon’s sales climbed 18% in earnings reported September 1, even as other athleisure companies struggled. As for Kendra Scott, the brand reposts #RushTok mentions of the brand across its social platforms. Among its 18 TikTok posts about #RushTok this year is a video featuring a mashup of pledges saying the brand’s name as they go through their outfits.
This year, Kendra Scott ran a three-pronged event tied to the phenomenon. It included a college campus tour, an AR video activation and a philanthropic donation.
“We received organic, viral coverage due to #RushTok, and it had a significant impact on our social engagement, particularly on TikTok,” said Amy Hannah, vp of brand marketing at Kendra Scott. “We noticed that our Elisa necklace stood out as a favorite among Gen-Z. It gave us the opportunity to engage with this consumer in the places that matter to them the most: on campus and online. Our ‘Hey, Elisa!’ campus tour launched in late August.”
On the month-long “Hey, Elisa!” tour’s events across six colleges, attendees can complete a quiz to find out which Elisa pendant style best represents their personal style. They can also snap selfies and sip on complementary, custom iced beverages inspired by the colors of the necklace’s stones. Interactive and Instagrammable setups include a custom-designed, concave mirror in the shape of the Elisa silhouette and life-size cutouts of Elisa characters.
The first 250 students at each school to opt-in to the quiz via email or on social receive a personalized stone necklace on-site for free. The brand is also giving away custom swag in each school’s custom colors. “We have had long lines wrapped around the activation before opening in every market and have been selling out of necklaces in under 40 minutes,” said Hannah.
The second part of the marketing push is more innovative, no doubt as a means to impress the young, digital-savvy college audience. Across social accounts, on August 21, the brand posted an augmented reality video showing Kendra Scott Elisa pendant necklaces blown up to massive sizes and swinging in the breeze from the Scottish Rite Dormitory at the University of Texas. The brand chose this location for its distinctive building.
On TikTok, some commenters on the video, which has received over 1.7 million views across Instagram and TikTok, questioned whether the scene was real, reflecting the new trend of faux OOH advertising. “AR is successfully being used in a wide variety of attention-grabbing marketing campaigns, and we wanted to see how our consumers would react on social media,” said Hannah.
The third component included a philanthropy effort, with the brand donating a total of 250 pieces of jewelry to universities for students to wear on job interviews.
Kendra Scott has 134 stores, with plans to open six more this year. Its sales have been growing by a mid-teen percentage since 2020 and are on track to hit roughly $500 million this year. The brand declined to disclose the percentage of its annual sales it makes during back-to-school.
Other brands are opting to reach college students through more traditional marketing tactics based on college pride and sports. Denim brand Wrangler, owned by Kontoor Brands, launched its second Collegiate Collection, made up of denim jackets, shirts and jeans, on August 30. Seventy colleges, including the University of Alabama, Ohio State University and the University of Tennessee, are featured on different styles, which have been showing up in #RushTok videos.
“Our team is extremely tapped in and keeps an eye on where we can lead or join conversations,” said John Meagher, senior director of marketing at Wrangler, talking about the #RushTok trend. “It’s not about chasing trends for the sake of it. It’s about joining the conversation where it makes sense.”
“Styles such as our cargo pants and relaxed-fit denim, known for comfort, durability and value, have been trending on TikTok, and our iconic ‘Cowboy Cut’ jean style is a staple on campus and on gameday,” said Meagher. “The bleach wash is huge at The University of Texas and other major colleges.” Meagher declined to provide exact sales figures. On August 2, the Wrangler brand reported $425 million in revenue for the second quarter, a 2% increase year-over-year.
For its college marketing — rather than feature blondes wearing pink, as are popular in #RushTok videos — the brand taps top-tier athletes across different sports. In 2022, it featured Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers, linebacker and now Dallas Cowboy DeMarvion Overshown, netballer Madisen Skinner, and volleyball star Asjia O’Neal. For 2023, it’s partnering with Ohio Star Tight End and NFL prospect Cade Stover, along with Asjia O’Neal.
“Cade [Stover] is a Wrangler guy, who grew up on a cattle farm in Ohio and lives by our values: hard work, courage and humility,” said Meagher. “People, especially younger audiences, can sniff out when you’re just slapping a logo somewhere, rather than doing it credibly and authentically.”
In addition, Wrangler has seeded products to campus ambassadors and influential alumni, and it is leveraging both paid and organic social posts. The brand declined to share its marketing budget for the collection. Last year, the Collegiate Collection was promoted in Wrangler stores, in OOH ads and on college campuses, as well as on social.