American Eagle Casts Itself as a Lifestyle Destination for Generation Y

From Sundance to Spring Break, CMO Savitt Helps Retailer Target Its 'Sweet Spot'

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Who: Kathy Savitt, exec VP-chief marketing officer, American Eagle Outfitters

Why you need to know her: Ms. Savitt, who joined the Warrendale, Pa., clothing retailer last year, is overseeing American Eagle's efforts to turn the company into a lifestyle destination for 15- to 25-year-olds by relying more and more on entertainment.
Kathy Savitt, CMO of American Eagle, said the retailer's plans for entertainment include creating original content.



Credentials: Before joining American Eagle, Ms. Savitt was VP-strategic communications, content and initiatives at Amazon.com, where she was responsible for global brand management, external and internal strategic communications, entertainment and original programming, worldwide PR and all offline marketing programs. Prior to that, she was president and co-founder of corporate consultancy MWW/Savitt.

Compared to other marketers, American Eagle Outfitters hasn't been all that active in branded entertainment. There was a deal with the WB around "Dawson's Creek" years ago; an episode of "The Apprentice"; and, more recently, content wraps on the CW during "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars." "You've started to see us do more and more. In our back-to-school [program] this summer, we did a partnership with AMC theaters where every kid who tried on a pair of jeans got to see a movie in an AMC theater.

"When we launched [the Aerie collection], we launched the Aerie Artists Music Series, a program where we identify emerging musicians and artists and help our customers discover that new music and help those artists discover new customers. Ben Lee was the first, followed by Rocco Deluca and the Burden. We help make the band by giving all our customers the opportunity to download a single free of charge. We promote their music, whether it's in-store or at AE.com, whether it's through our Facebook blog or other social-networking programs like our MySpace page.

"On the CW, we did a partnership where we took over sponsorship of Tuesday night and called it 'Aerie Tuesdays on the CW.' We did that for 10 weeks. Moving into 2007, we started with Sundance, with the Aerie spa and gifting boutique and hosting the White Out Party, where 30 Seconds to Mars is performing.

"We'll be on the beaches in Acapulco and Cancun and own spring break. We will be having live performances and a major college event across the country with fun content from customers, comedians and musicians that will play across all our channels."

Talk a little about those channels and how you use them. "We have two powerful channels: AE.com and 900-plus stores in the United States and Canada. We use the stores and internet as a platform for customer-focused marketing. In stores, we have flat-screen televisions. We have 350 million-plus customer visits each year. That's a lot of eyeballs for branded entertainment in our stores. We have more than 20 million coming to AE.com. It's a significant platform for us to be able to introduce and promote content and media to a customer base that is largely setting those trends. The 15- to 25-year-old man or woman is consuming and creating media at breakneck speeds."

Why go to Sundance? That doesn't seem to be the audience the company is normally looking to reach, is it? "We're all about men and women 15 to 25 years old. But our bull's-eye is the 20-year-old customer. When you look at our sweet spot, it's people in college or after college. When you look at who's consuming television or movies, it very much is that 20-year-old. What we're seeing is that Sundance keeps being referred to as a major pop-culture event. Our customer is who helped make 'Napoleon Dynamite' or 'Garden State' hits. It's become a real trendsetting and style-setting event in the cultural vernacular. It's about being where the customer wants to be. Our customer is reading the blogs, reading In Style or Teen Vogue or People or Seventeen or Entertainment Weekly. And just because the college kid won't take off classes to go [to Sundance] doesn't mean it's not interesting to them."

Any future projects you can talk about? "You will see us on television again. Our customer tends to disintermediate the 30-second spot. We will team with a network or media partner who can help us find a way to do television advertising that's relevant and where our customers will want to opt in. You will see original programming. We will be doing some of our own entertainment content and programming and see some interesting things in film."

In general, what are you hoping entertainment will help do for American Eagle? "We look at marketing from a 360-degree customer orientation. When we look at being relevant and having a connection with them across all touch points, being relevant in media and entertainment is part of that strategy. Our customers are incredibly bright and discerning of how they consume media. We know they're watching a lot of movies, watching a lot of TV. They're also all over the internet. If we're going to be a really relevant lifestyle partner, we need to be impactful, important and relevant wherever they are. The idea each time is to take an experience and make it a multichannel experience for our customers. Even if you can't go to Sundance, you will see 30 Seconds to Mars on AE.com or clips in stores. Even if you don't travel, you can experience spring break, AE style."

How long does the content run in the stores or online? "When we did Ben Lee, it ran for four weeks. When we look at spring break, we're thinking 10 days to four weeks. It depends on the act and what else we have going. We try to keep it fresh and relevant."

How active is the company looking to be in the branded-entertainment space? Are we talking one project per quarter? One project per year? "No, we're very selective. It has to fit into our traffic-generation or brand-stewardship strategy. Our first focus is on providing the best customer experience in American Eagle stores and on AE.com. Whenever it makes sense to bring or create unique and compelling customer experiences, we're going to look seriously at doing them."

Would you ever consider having American Eagle produce its own entertainment content? "Yes, we would consider it and are working on some original content that I can't discuss."

What are some issues a clothing retailer needs to deal with when developing entertainment projects? Obviously, automakers have it much easier -- it's easier to identify a car than, say, the brand behind a T-shirt. How do you make sure the brand is front and center without alienating consumers? "If you consider branded entertainment product placement only, the American Eagle collection of clothes is distinct. We have a logo and an icon that's well-known by our customer and beyond. If you look at how you identify a brand beyond product placement, we're a trusted resource and lifestyle partner. We have this anthem at American Eagle: Live your life. It's our take on customers living their life and being who they want to be -- authenticity, individuality. So a lot of times when we look at branded entertainment, we ask, 'Are we helping to bring "Live your life" to life?'"

How do you measure success when it comes to branded-entertainment projects? "A couple of ways. An increase in traffic online or to the stores. We do a series of brand-perception research and track everything from awareness to the cool factor and unaided awareness of the American Eagle brand to our customers. And ultimately sales of highlighted product and how we're helping communicate the value, the fit and the fact that the American Eagle collection is trend right."

Did you see any results from the content wraps? "We saw a significant increase in traffic to Aerie.com and AE.com. For unaided awareness, [the content wraps were a major way] people first learned about Aerie."

There is still some confusion as to what branded entertainment is. How do you define it? "I find it a loaded term. It goes a lot further than product integration and product placements. It's really about being a customer-focused platform to help them discover new types of entertainment that will delight them."

What are some forms of branded entertainment that you've recently liked? "I have to go back to the BMW films. They took the idea of product placement and gave it legs. BMW got some real kinds of cool and relevance and being a place of discovery, and those attributes rubbed off on those automobiles."

And not liked? "I tend not to connect with naked product integration."

What's on your TiVo? "'24,' 'The Office,' anything with Bill Maher, 'Entourage' and 'Rome.'"

What's on your iPod? "A lot of new music like the Fray, Fergie, Rocco Deluca and the Burden, Gnarls Barkley, Jet and the greatest poet of them all, Bob Dylan."

What do you do in your downtime? "I do have two awesome daughters. One is almost 18, the other is 8. Being their mom keeps me very busy, in addition to what I'm doing at American Eagle. I also consume a lot of film, television and music."
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