American Eagle Outfitters' really big sign attracts buyers

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If you haven't been to Times Square in New York City in the past few years, you've missed the sign.

There are plenty of flashy billboards in the Manhattan spot that draws tourists, shoppers and theatergoers, but the 15,000-square-foot digital wall of marketing over the American Eagle Outfitters store has attracted attention since it first lit up in 2009.

Some of that has been for the teen clothing retailer based on Pittsburgh's South Side, but not all. The company keeps about 60 percent of the 12-paneled billboard's time for its own projects, with the other 40 percent available for lease, according to an American Eagle spokeswoman.

On a recent rainy day in the city, the massive display presented glowing visions of Amazonian young women modeling summer styles along a beach or showing off underwear from American Eagle's aerie line of intimates.

And then, ads for Bob's Discount Furniture alerted passersby that the local chain was "Coming Soon to Co-op City."

American Eagle also is known for putting real folks up on the big screen. Shoppers can pose in a small photo studio on the store's third floor and then hurry outside to see themselves much larger than life.

Thomas and Koen, two boys from Tilburg in the Netherlands, made it into the bright lights that day next to a message that said, "Good to be here NYC." A family from Lacaze, France, was featured doing a showbiz pose complete with jazz hands. And a group of friends all held flowers for their shot.

In addition to getting its store into scores of family photo collections, American Eagle has earned media mentions and even some celebrity sightings with its big board.

Industry publication Adweek did a ranking in 2011 of "10 cool uses of American Eagle's Stunning LED Sign in Times Square." Among those called out were one to help raise funds after the Haiti earthquake in 2010 and one for a Harry Potter movie.

Yoko Ono used the board as part of a Peace Day project last year.

Online material meant to market to potential advertisers claims the sign can be seen by 98,560 pedestrians; 496,500 daily passersby either walking or in a bus or car; and by 35 million visitors annually.

The American Eagle billboard sits amid a cacophony of messages and LED lights coating other buildings nearby. It's hard to tell how many passersby are paying attention.

On that recent rainy day, one couple seemed to be using the surroundings just to set a scene. The man and woman stood in the center of Times Square and kissed while he held out his smartphone to capture the moment.

Then there were three friends from Colombia taking pictures of each other. Two held bags from Swedish retailer H&M, but the third shook her head when asked if she'd been into the American Eagle store.

"I came here just for Times Square," she said. "Not to shop."

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