Stephanie Campbell

Stephanie Campbell on how the #AerieREAL campaign caught fire

“I think it's one of the most exciting things I've gotten to work on in my career,” says Stephanie Campbell.

She's American Eagle Outfitters' Social Media Associate Manager for their Aerie brand, and she's talking about a campaign you've probably already heard of, their #AerieREAL project.

In January of 2014, the lingerie and swimwear brand made headlines when they announced the decision to stop retouching photos of their models. Stephanie's job was to bring the campaign to life on social media.

Aerie Real campaign

“It was a big moment for us to realize just how beautiful the girls we were working with looked unretouched. And the community response we saw in social media drove the excitement,” she says.

And while the campaign came from an overall branding transition, it was especially successful in the social space.

In fact, the Aerie Real campaign resonated much more than they originally expected in social media.

I wanted everybody who supported the campaign to get a thank you because it meant so much to us.

This sudden flood of attention was a welcome change to Stephanie since her start with the company years ago as their first social media intern. She says she remembered days when she wouldn't have a single tweet to respond to.

“When we launched, I was the only one on Aerie's social team. And I was so excited that I tried responding back to every single person. I wanted everybody who supported the campaign to get a thank you because it meant so much to us.”

She says it also felt great to respond to detractors who said the brand had to be lying by confidently saying their girls were 100-percent unretouched.

“It was a long couple of nights, but I enjoyed every moment of it.”

“Social media has allowed us to develop on the power of #AerieREAL.”

From this initial campaign came a lot of opportunities for user-generated content. Suddenly, customers were posting about their own experiences and empathizing with what had once seemed unattainable. So Stephanie and the Aerie marketing team saw a chance to share those stories.

It's all about having them participate in the conversation in a way that they can benefit from in a continuous way.

They started by holding a contest for girls to submit what made them #AerieREAL on social media. And since they couldn't pick one, the brand chose five girls to do a photo shoot and an interview with Aerie to feature on their site. (Don't look now, it's down temporarily because they're working on creating an even bigger, better #AerieREAL community for 2016.)

“When a girl looks at a photo of one of our models, she can tell that she's not retouched, but she can't always see what #AerieREAL is beyond our models. This was the first time we were able to give them a platform for their stories to share what it meant to be #AerieREAL, because it means something different for every girl.”

Since then, they've built a community around #AerieREAL.

They keep up the call for UGC and engaging with their audiences by putting out calls to action like featuring “Real Talk” quotes on Thursdays and regramming users' content. And the community continues to respond.

“I think our community for Aerie, especially on Instagram, is one of the most positive communities out there. Our fans are so supportive of every girl we post on Instagram whether they're an Aerie girl, a model, a blogger, or our next door neighbor,” she says.

“Not only are we regramming our girls' photos into a safe and positive community space, we're also sharing the love and sharing her love for herself as well. Plus, the words they are saying are really strong.”

Stephanie says you have to look for that emotional moment.

#AerieREAL hits on the emotions that matter to consumers.

“It can be funny, it can be sad, or it can just ring true with your customer,” she says.

Stephanie explains that you have to move beyond just earning the like or the share and get your customers to want to come back to engage.

“You have to ask what is making them tick, what is important to your customer. Once you figure that out, it's all about having them participate in the conversation in a way that they can benefit from in a continuous way.”

You can find Stephanie on Twitter or check out her fashion blog, Glam and Graffiti. Stephanie's been a member of since 2013 and American Eagle Outfitters has been with us since 2012.