A tale of two Islands

Once known for its fast-fashion partnerships, “Love Island” seems to be forging a new image in the US and UK.
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Illustration: Francis Scialabba, Photos: eBay, Love Island

· 5 min read

For years, Love Island was associated with fast fashion, dressing contestants in brands like PrettyLittleThing and I Saw It First. UK season five runner-up Molly-May Hague even became the former’s creative director in 2021, and last year’s winner, Millie Court, took a job at Asos after the season wrapped.

After facing criticism—including from past contestants—for promoting fast fashion given its ties to labor exploitation and environmental waste, British TV network ITV decided to break it off with its fast-fashion partners and recouple with eBay, dressing this season’s contestants in “pre-loved” clothing.

Here in the US, NBC worked with ITV to integrate shoppable features into season four of Love Island USA streaming on Peacock, enabling viewers to purchase from small retailers they may otherwise not have heard of.

On both sides of the pond, it seems, Love Island has become a vehicle for testing out new ways of influencing viewers’ shopping habits, with a focus away from fast fashion.

Previously…on Love Island

Venice Asourmatzian works on the content and creative systems team as a senior associate director at MediaCom, where she said her team’s role is “helping brands become more culturally relevant.”

“We saw the tension that eBay could solve by providing a more sustainable way to buy fashion,” she told us. When pitching ITV, she said it wasn’t a tough sell given how much “they wanted to evolve.”

According to Asourmatzian, bringing the partnership to life was a “massive collaboration project” between agencies like McCann, which handled creative, and DEPT, which handled social, and met twice a day in order to keep up with the daily cadence of the show.

On eBay’s end, she said the company had to buy secondhand clothes to dress the islanders since it doesn’t typically store inventory. On the show’s official eBay store, viewers can now buy the clothes actually worn by islanders, with proceeds on certain items going to charities like Oxfam. Other clothing inspired by islanders’ looks have also been curated on the site for viewers to bid on.

Last year, Love Island UK had “nine official partners,” which amounted to more than £12 million in revenue even before the season started airing, according to The Guardian. Asourmatzian said she was not able to confirm the amount generated in secondhand sales to date.

However, she said searches are up more than 700% on the site this year, and in June, Jemma Tadd, head of fashion at eBay, told the BBC that the company had sold one “pre-loved” item every second in 2022 so far.

“I sincerely hope that we can help set a good example for the industry to really consider how people buy fashion and be more sustainable,” she said. “I think that [would] be the best possible outcome of the campaign.”

Nadja-Timea Scherrer, VP and cultural impact strategist at social impact agency plus305, said she was “really pleasantly surprised” by the announcement given islanders’ function as role models. “Just like everyone else in the entertainment industry, in the advertising industry, they are shaping consumer behavior,” she said. The season eight finale, which aired earlier this month, drew an audience of 3.4 million.

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Asourmatzian said feedback from fans as well as eBay has been positive. While there are no plans to extend the partnership to other countries as of now, she said they’re looking at extending it to next season in the UK.

Cracking on

Evan Moore, SVP of commerce partnerships at NBCUniversal, told us he’s not sure if secondhand partnerships are in the future for Love Island USA. Some of this season’s contestants have been noted as wearing Shein and PrettyLittleThing.

Still, he said his team worked with ITV to come up with a list of brands that “otherwise wouldn’t have had a chance to work with NBCUniversal” to incorporate into this season.

The goal, he said, was for the show to “be a point of discovery” for viewers, making it easier for them to find smaller, independent brands they might not know about. One clothing brand featured this season is Kenny Flowers, a family business that sells swim and beachwear.

“Above any sales bump we’ve seen from integrating with their platform, we’re most excited about being a part of the Love Island USA experience,” Jake Park, marketing director at Kenny Flowers, told us.

Viewers can shop by scanning a QR code that takes them to the E! website on their phone to read more and potentially make a purchase. Moore said QR codes are the “most successful way we’ve seen driving consumers from [NBC shows] into a second-screen experience.”

Looking back on the last few years, Moore said the NBC team has also learned that shoppable items “[need] to be organic and contextual” to the show they’re featured in.

The model embedded into the show, in which the production team works with brands and integrates shoppable content, is one that Moore said NBC hopes to replicate in other shows should all go well this season. He said they’re tracking things like consumer experience and consideration for featured brands, as well as how often viewers are scanning codes and visiting the E! website.

“We’re really in the early days, in terms of shoppable television,” he said. “So we’re always trying new things with how we present those calls to action.”

So far, he said, NBC is happy with the results. But with Love Island, you never know if heads will turn.

Correction 08/18/22: This story has been updated since its original publication. The social agency involved in the eBay partnership for Love Island UK was listed as DEB and has been corrected to DEPT.

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