American Eagle's Head of Digital on How the Brand Is Disrupting Retail

February 5, 2018

By Meghan Medlock

American Eagle's "Ride with Pride" campaign engaged activists from the LGBTQ community and a branded float at the NYC LGBTQ Pride march. American Eagle/


With more than 15 years of marketing experience behind her, Kristen D'Arcy is no stranger to the challenges and opportunities of digital marketing. The current head of performance digital marketing and media at American Eagle Outfitters, D'Arcy runs media, digital, and social for the retail brand. Ahead of her presentation at the 2018 ANA Media Conference, we caught up with her to discuss how her brand is disrupting the retail landscape and using influencer and content marketing to keep consumers engaged.

How does American Eagle Outfitters stay relevant in today's retail space, especially with millennials?

I impart a sense of urgency among my teams every single day to think about how to do things better and differently to connect with our core audience of 15 to 25-year-olds. The more we know about them, the more agile we can be about where we want to innovate technology-wise, whether they are first-time customers or brand loyalists. 

Can you share some examples of how you are digitally disrupting the retail space?

American Eagle Outfitter's first bots, which we created for both the American Eagle and Aerie (intimate apparel) brands, were launched on Facebook Messenger on Black Friday 2016. The main objective was to generate engagement on Facebook Messenger. Between November 2016 and June 2017, four million messages were exchanged, and there was a 25 percent click-through rate from Messenger to American Eagle Outfitters' website. Amazingly, 75 percent of people using the bots were new to the brand. The ultimate goal is to start capitalizing on the equity and engagement we have built with our audience on Messenger over time. Since social media is where our consumers spend most of their time, messaging to them in that space works as we are diligently look for the right way and time to connect with consumers and drive preference and loyalty for our brands. To utilize messaging for connection with a brand feels intimate — it's a one-on-one conversation in a familiar medium. 

How did American Eagle Outfitters include engagement with influencers in the recent "Ride with Pride" campaign and what results did it produce?

We engaged activists from the LGBTQ community, released a clothing collection to benefit an LGBT-focused organization, and launched a Facebook Live stream from the brand's float at New York City's annual LGBTQ Pride march. We partnered with micro-influencers and LGBTQ activists to customize #WeAllCan tees with messaging about what Pride means to them. Influencers selected included Orion Carloto, a writer and poet with nearly 500,000 Instagram followers and Max Emerson, an actor/model with 792,000 Instagram followers, along with a few others. They shared their testimonials on social and encouraged their followers to shop the collection and to post with #WeAllCan for a chance to have their image featured on the American Eagle Outfitters float. During the Pride march, more than 90,000 people tuned in to the Facebook Live stream. Total mentions using the hashtag #WeAllCan increased by 225 percent in June. The campaign also became an Instagram trending story and sales of the 2017 It Gets Better/American Eagle Pride collection almost doubled, compared to the brand's Pride-focused 2016 collection. The American Eagle Humanifesto video has amassed about 300,000 views on Facebook. I look forward to sharing this work and more at #ANAMedia! 

What are your thoughts on content marketing and brands as publishers?

Authenticity is an integral part of American Eagle Outfitters' marketing strategy. The storytelling abilities of brands using digital as a platform are both numerous and beneficial. Consumers who want to connect with brands can do so in a deeper, more engaging two-way manner via digital versus other, more passive mediums. But authenticity has to extend beyond campaign creative; it has to be a part of brands' DNA and be exemplified through the ways in which they interact with their customers.

Brands as publishers are authentic when they deliver on the needs and expectations of their audiences. In an era where digital has democratized communications, it is important that we think of ways to strike the right balance between brand storytelling and consumer amplification. This is why we believe that earned media is crucial for the success of content marketing. Using the hashtag #AEOStyle, we have identified and grown a community of brand ambassadors by sharing and curating the images and videos consumers have uploaded. This is particularly vital in the retail world, where 78 percent of consumers are influenced by social media when making a purchasing decision. By actively listening to their customers and leveraging earned content from them, brands like American Eagle Outfitters can build trust and rapport while encouraging people to take action. 

Learn more about how American Eagle Outfitters is disrupting digital media with chatbots and award-winning influencer, content, and e-commerce marketing programs at Kristen D'Arcy's session at the ANA Media Conference, February 28–March 2, at The Ritz-Carlton, Grande Lakes in Orlando, Fla. Kristen will be joined by top marketers and media leaders from companies like P&G, Johnson & Johnson, McDonald's, Target, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Ford Motor Co. Visit this page for more information and to register today

Meghan Medlock is the senior director of conferences and committees at the ANA.

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