· 3 min read
Before there was BeReal, there was #AerieREAL.
Since 2014, the retailer has made unfiltered beauty its marketing mantra, beginning with a commitment to not airbrush models. In the last nine-plus years, Aerie has worked with a diverse set of brand ambassadors to promote body positivity as part of its #AerieREAL campaign, including gymnast Aly Raisman, actress Hari Nef, the Rollette dance team, and influencer Remi Bader.
“We’ve been really inspired by our customer, which is where the genesis of the Real campaign began,” Stacey McCormick, CMO of Aerie, OFFL/NE, and Unsubscribed, told us.
Influencer marketing and UGC have been “in the DNA of the brand” since its inception, McCormick said. She said that paid social and influencer marketing continue to make up the biggest portions of the brand’s marketing spend, though she didn’t share figures.
Real recognizes real
McCormick said Aerie isn’t concerned about follower counts when sourcing its community of influencers, but rather retouching—or lack thereof—and body acceptance. “We want to make sure that we share the same beliefs and purpose,” she said.
At night, McCormick said she’ll sit and scroll through posts under #AerieREAL looking for creators to reach out to, whether they’re “higher-tier” influencers like Victoria Garrick Browne— who has more than 1.3 million TikTok followers—or more micro- or nano-influencers.
McCormick said Aerie works with a PR/talent agency, a social influencer agency, and a media agency to manage its workload, but its in-house social team consists of just three people. “A lot of the [creators] we find are people who just inspired us and ended up coming into the family that way,” she said.
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Its approach to influencer marketing seems to be working: In the first quarter of 2023, Aerie’s revenue grew 12% year over year, marking an “all-time” Q1 high for the brand.
When Aerie makes deals with creators, they’re told not to use filters: “That’s the top thing in the brief,” McCormick said. UGC, however, is another story, since it’s often created without a brief and therefore with less creative control.
According to McCormick, Aerie encourages people to post without filters to #AerieREAL, but doesn’t audit or have any enforcement mechanisms to ensure everything is completely unfiltered.
Still, she said, “UGC and real people are what our customer wants to see from us” and therefore it makes up a “big part of [Aerie’s] allocation of spend.” In addition to hosting challenges to get people to post about Aerie, McCormick said the brand also hosts events, like this month’s Hidden Gems Marketplace, which help generate organic content.
Another thing that motivates the community to post, McCormick said, is featuring #AerieREAL posts on the brand website and product pages. Each week, she said her team selects a group of images to post, which allows people to “feel seen and heard” by other fans of the brand.
“Having this influencer/UGC word-of-mouth portion of our marketing has been very effective,” McCormick said. “It’s turned a lot of people onto the brand.”