Spray painted jeans stunt generates buzz for American Eagle

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The same week that athletic clothier lululemon had to admit some of its women's yoga pants were unacceptably sheer, teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters sent its customers word that it had introduced a skinny skinny jean.

As in painted on. Really. Spray painted on.

Unlike lululemon, American Eagle's venture into sheer clothing has the potential to boost sales -- but not of skinny skinny jeans.

American Eagle's 'spray-on' jeans commercial

A fake American Eagle Outfitters' YouTube ad touts spray-on jeans. The video has gone viral. (3/23/2013)

"We're getting a lot of accolades for stepping outside of our comfort zone," said Bob Holobinko, American Eagle's vice president of brand management, who spent part of Friday morning explaining the stunt on NBC's "Today Show."

The South Side clothing chain, which has hundreds of stores around the country and dresses a whole lot of young people, decided to get in front of its customers in a way that might grab their attention: almost-undressed models playing it straight in a video shot in such a way that it isn't entirely clear the denim-toned product covering their rear ends and their legs is just paint.

Like an early April's Fools joke, a lot of people figured it out quickly, while others weren't so sure.

"I am repulsed by the skinny skinny jeans. Seriously, they aren't even jeans anymore, it looks like body paint," posted one Facebook user. "I used to be a faithful AE shopper because I fell in love with the quality and the carefree style. NOT ANYMORE!"

The American Eagle video was posted online Wednesday morning and emails went out to the customer base that afternoon. The company quickly began seeing its page views surge. The campaign got numerous media mentions, too. By Friday afternoon, the YouTube video had more than 360,000 views.

Customers who tried to check out the product online were sent to images of two cans of paint. If they actually tried to buy the cans, they were told American Eagle was sold out.

The retailer, which came up with the idea about four months ago while working on spring marketing, got help from New York City-based online entertainment company CollegeHumor Media on the video. CollegeHumor, whose repertoire includes the book "Faking It: How To Seem Like a Better Person Without Actually Improving Yourself," has been partnering with brands on this type of advertising for the past five years.

American Eagle officially targets a college audience, even if it does well with the high school crowd, too. And while it's never been as racy as rival Abercrombie, the retailer doesn't want to seem too safe.

"I think for this type of audience, it definitely plays into how they react or engage with a brand," said Holly Maust, principal at Downtown digital marketing agency Interactive Swim. "It plays to their humor, and that's huge in terms of making viral work."

Eric Ash, director of public relations, social influence, for the Strip District office of Mullen, was impressed at the way that American Eagle's campaign kept the story line consistent across its operations. Even store personnel were prepared so they could refer curious shoppers to the online store without being dishonest but also without giving the game up.

Mr. Holobinko seemed a little stunned at how quickly the video picked up interest. The team is now hurrying to finish a second video that should go live in the next week. "We're trying to fast-track it," he said.

That part of the campaign will include an offer for fans, Mr. Holobinko said, presumably something that will help generate sales. "We like to reward our customers, and they like to be rewarded," he said.

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Teresa F. Lindeman: tlindeman@post-gazette.com or at 412-263-2018. First Published March 23, 2013 4:00 AM


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