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TikTok isn’t usually associated with a school curriculum. Typically, students hide their phones under their desks, pray their teachers don’t notice that they’re scrolling through the app and take their shot at fame after class.But American Eagle (AE) seems to think that Gen Z’s favorite app could actually have some educational value.Following the launch of the #AExME Back to School ’20 Campaign, AE and marketing consultant agency Shadow saw another opportunity to excite students about returning to school. They hosted a virtual TikTok 101 class on July 21, which featured an emcee, “classes” taught by revered TikTokers and a xylophone “school bell” between sessions.What set this event apart from other youth-focused brand efforts was that it had very little to do with AE itself. Through the class, as well as a TikTok competition and a campaign that gave featured dancers free rein to style themselves, the brand shifted its focus from selling T-shirts and jeans and onto the diverse personalities of the people sporting them.“If there is a way you want to market to Gen Z, it’s going to be through TikTok,” said TikToker Wisdom Kaye. “We spend all of our time on our phones.”AE has certainly met this generation where its interests already lie by launching its TikTok #InMyAEJeans challenge. This competition incentivizes users to create their own dance for the chance to win a gift card or a duet post with the face of its campaign and the second-most followed creator on TikTok, Addison Rae.Shadow representatives explained that because there is an innate separation between the working adults behind these campaigns and Gen Z itself, it was important to let the young people who were cast call the shots.“Their ability to hone in on individuality and comfort for all is super inspiring,” said dancer Hannah Hawkins. “We were able to be a part of the creative process, from lighting, to setup, to makeup.”The upbeat, dance-centric ad campaign features a diverse group of dancers, a nod to the brand’s long-term commitment to diversity and inclusion, which it has previously showcased through partnerships with adaptive clothing lines, expanded size charts and diversified ads.Before purchasing a product on the website, customers are shown examples of real people sporting the item, images that are pulled from Instagram photos with the hashtag #AExME.“I have followers in all different shapes and sizes,” said Denise Mercedes, a longtime American Eagle partner and advocate for body positivity within fashion. “It’s great that I’m able to post something and know that I’m not excluding any part of my audience.”Kaye said TikTok allows users to “share what they want and really be themselves,” making it the ideal platform to reach a generation that demands a personal connection with the brands it supports.“There’s a desire among Gen Z to accept people for who they are, regardless of their body types, gender identities or sexual orientations,” he added.

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