The last three back-to-school seasons have been unlike any other, and the same is true for this year. In July, inflation hit a 41-year high of 9.1%. At the same time, layoffs, high gas prices and stock market declines have consumers bracing for a recession. Financial turmoil is causing consumers to rethink purchases, including for the upcoming school season. Gas and food spending is trumping purchases such as apparel and accessories.
“The macro climate is more challenging, but we’ve been doing this a long time,” Brommers said. “We’re sticking to what we know, and our biggest category—jeans.”
The brand has refined its marketing messaging around its apparel value by reminding customers that a pair of jeans is long-lasting, comfortable, school-approved and on-trend. That messaging fits with Gen Z’s interest in sustainability and being more conscious of the value of their purchases.
American Eagle is also doing a TikTok hashtag challenge using TikTok’s SoundOn platform, which was rolled out in March and allows artists to upload their music directly to TikTok to earn royalties. American Eagle will use several Gen Z musicians—including singer and bassist Blu DeTiger, multi-instrumentalist spill tab and alt-pop duo Tabakian x Tanisakoas—as the campaign’s common thread across Meta Quest, Roblox and TikTok.
“Our Gen Z customer is leaning into their passions,” Brommers said. “Music is often a connection point to those moments—jamming with friends, going to a concert. We thought the two passion points of music and jeans make sense this season.”
American Eagle also tapped emerging TikTok artist Katherine Li to update a portion of her forthcoming release as the brand’s back-to-school anthem. Li and five other creators will use her song to kick off a hashtag challenge on Aug. 23, inviting users to create a music video while wearing American Eagle jeans and using the hashtag #AEJeansSoundOn. The challenge will end on Aug. 25. Three winners will receive a $3,000 gift card and their videos will appear on American Eagle’s Times Square billboard.