As stay-at-home orders forced businesses around the world to close their doors, everything from dinners with friends to professional conferences moved online. And with brick-and-mortar stores shut, brands were forced to do the same: connect with consumers virtually.
For Aerie, the American Eagle Outfitters-owned intimates, swim and leisure brand, that came in the form of the #AerieREAL Positivity challenge on TikTok. The challenge asks TikTok users to create a video sharing three things they’re grateful for in quarantine. Since its launch on April 15, the videos created as a part of the challenge have racked up over 2 billion impressions and an average increase of 855% in site traffic to Aerie.
Stacey McCormick, senior vice president of marketing at Aerie, said the idea was born from customers sharing stories with the brand on their own about how they were remaining positive and hopeful during quarantine. The Aerie team felt these stories represented its values of “body positivity, self-love, empowerment and community.”
“TikTok was the ideal platform,” she said. “Its content is historically rooted in fun, levity and an innate human goodness.”
The Aerie team worked with its agency of record, Shadow, to turn the brand’s “positivity mission into a TikTok-native format, a challenge.” Aerie even created an original song, called 100% Real Love by PopUpGirl, to go with it.
The challenge kicked off with a post from TikTok’s most-followed user, Charli D’Amelio, who earned almost 4 million likes from her 51 million followers on her #AerieRealPositivity video. It spread through the social media app thanks to submissions coming from the #AerieREAL lineup of spokespeople—known as Role Models—including DJ and wellness advocate Tiff McFierce, sustainability activist Manuela Barón, and Paralympic snowboarder Brenna Huckaby.
By the end of the first week, the campaign had over 1.3 billion views, and Aerie’s TikTok account grew from zero followers to 15,000.
The brand’s reach beyond TikTok grew as well. In one weekend, the brand gained over 16,000 followers on Instagram. Visits to the brand’s site were up, too, with the #AerieREAL Life homepage seeing 138,000 pageviews in one day.
It’s helped Aerie to weather the pandemic, which has brought challenges across the industry. Aerie’s global brand president, Jen Foyle, said the campaign contributed to a quarter that was already “nothing short of spectacular” following “21 straight quarters of double-digit sales growth.” Digital sales increased 75% during the pandemic, and there was a “double-digit increase for Aerie’s total business,” she added.
Aerie sees TikTok as the perfect way to continue connecting with their community regardless of whether stores reopen. It allows customers to be themselves and find positive content that inspires and excites them, and it creates a space for brands like Aerie to be a part of that excitement.
“TikTok can seem intimidating to new users with its many functions and editing tools, but sharing positivity is actually easy and fun,” McCormick said. “We love it and will continue to activate it.”
Other brands including Hero Cosmetics, Fenty Beauty and Gucci also use TikTok to market their products and connect with consumers. Hero Cosmetics uses the platform for everything from customer reviews to product launches and, recently, social justice commentary. Fenty Beauty directly posts videos of costumers using its products, often accompanied by discount codes for viewers, and Gucci engages followers with #GucciBeauty, which encourages users to show off how they use their makeup on their own pages.
Going forward, Aerie plans on continuing to utilize TikTok as both a platform to reach customers and as a way to grow closer with and build the Aerie community. This summer, the brand will highlight its swim collection with a new challenge called “Build Your Own Beach,” where users show off their Aerie beachwear at home. It kicked off May 21 with a post from Jessica Alba and her daughter, Honor.
“We have continued to build on not just the success of this individual campaign, but on the community we have created,” McCormick said. “We do that by exploring new ways to share what makes Aerie special.”