American Eagle Surrendered Creative Control for Its Latest Marketing Effort to Gen Z

The young shoppers shot, styled and starred in the latest campaign

American Eagle's latest campaign came from the creative minds of Gen Z. American Eagle
Headshot of Katie Richards

American Eagle is taking the consumer focus group to a whole new level, enlisting a number of Gen Z customers (born between 1995 and 2015) to star in the brand’s latest marketing effort. But wait—there’s more. The brand turned over full creative control to these Gen Z shoppers, giving them the freedom to style and shoot themselves for American Eagle’s Spring ’19 campaign.
“Gone are the days when brands dictated to customers what they should look like, what they should feel like and what they should do to be cool. This generation is cool because they are such individuals and they are so creative and inspiring,” Kyle Andrew, AE CMO, evp of marketing, said.
It’s one thing to let teenagers inform your marketing decisions but a whole different thing to put your entire marketing campaign in their hands. “We want to be inspired by them so we are letting them take control of things that we normally wouldn’t let people take control of,” Andrew continued.

The campaign features nine Gen Zers who all shop at and wear American Eagle. The brand’s marketing team found the faces of its new campaign by scouring social media and searching posts under the #AExMe platform. American Eagle originally launched the platform as a way to find real authentic people that the brand could use in its marketing efforts. Now, the hashtag has become a way for the brand to cast an entire campaign and turn over complete control to young people that embodied the brand and felt like everyday teenagers and young adults.
The cast of Gen Zers used iPhones, disposable and medium format film cameras to shoot their selfies and video used in the campaign. Again, photos were not altered to appear a certain way, something that the brand and sister brand Aerie have been big proponents of in the last few years. Andrew said she really wanted the images to feel authentic so that they’ll resonate with American Eagle’s customer base.

According to Andrew, 80 percent of American Eagle’s shoppers are part of Gen Z, so putting the marketing power in their hands was an easy choice for the brand.
“It seems kind of crazy to me. Especially when you are marketing to Gen Z, I don’t think it is relevant to them to have a brand telling them how to express themselves with their clothes. … They don’t need a 40-year-old white guy sitting in an office telling them how to do that,” Michael Goldberg, AE creative director, said.
Andrew noted that she had two main goals with this campaign. One is to get people (and not just Gen Z shoppers) to think about American Eagle differently. “People have a soft spot in their hearts for American Eagle because it’s a brand that has been around for a long time. It’s been consistent. It makes good quality clothes. People remember it and have a fondness for it. But I want people to really love it,” she said.
The second goal is to get people to recognize the brand as “America’s number one jeans brand. I think people forget how big our jeans business is. I’m hoping that by having cool, young kids with amazing individual style reflecting the more diverse and inclusive community out there and having them wear our jeans that people will start to recognize that we are the authority in jeans for this generation,” Andrew added.
For those tapped to star in the campaign, it gives them a chance to show the world what their generation stands for and what they stand for on an individual level.

One AExME Spring ’19 Campaign cast member, Brinda Iyer, said for her it was a chance to show that “brown women and LGBTQ+ members … can be represented commercially, that the world is changing its lens and their voice matters. I want their parents to know they can be seen in other lanes aside from the ones that are most common, that actively pursuing their dreams within a creative sphere is totally possible if they’re motivated to keep pushing for it.”

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.