Why American Eagle’s New Teen Brand is Doomed to Fail

No one likes a copycat.

Advertisements

With the Brandy Melville teen takeover, American Eagle won’t win back their teen customers by being a copycat.

screen-shot-2016-11-02-at-10-41-27-am
Image source: American Eagle ae.com

According to the most recent research by Piper Jaffray in teen brands and spending, it looks like the #1 hot spot for teen apparel has been filled by none other than Brandy Melville. For many years, Forever 21 and American Eagle were the top. But like all things, what goes up, must come down. Nowadays, everything is fast and attentions are short. It’s not even enough for brands to stay abreast of trends. Sometimes, generations stick with brands they grew up on and often times, new brands are adopted by the next generation. It’s a cycle, like everything else. And I think Big Corp needs to accept they just can’t stay on top forever.

piper-jaffray-brandymelville
Source: Piper Jaffray

Brandy Melville seemed to emerge almost overnight (although it’s been in USA since 2012). The beloved teen brand went viral thanks to Instagram and swooped in to take center stage of American Eagle’s teen audience.

So how did AE react to the competition? By creating Don’t Ask Why, a collection initially launched as the ‘Made in Italy’ collection in August 2013, and re-branded September ’14.

The motivation was to shift the collection to a brand to compete with Brandy Melville – and in doing so, they created some of the exact same styles, with the exact ‘one size’ sizing model, also made in Italy, and with similar pricing.

On the Left: Brandy Melville styles, on the Right: AE’s Don’t Ask Why styles

Don’t get me wrong, I like a lot of the styles from this collection. And I love AE jeans a lot – which is what Brandy doesn’t have. There’s the weakness the execs missed.

So why do I think this new brand strategy is not going to work?  Because of several factors:

  1. The name is bad. ‘Don’t ask why’ What does that even mean?  Don’t ask why –what? Don’t ask why you’re knocking off a teen brand? Who came up with this? Using a negative or sarcasm in your brand name probably isn’t a good idea. I know, teens are sarcastic. But unless you are trying to hang with Nasty Gal, Local Heroes or Dolls Kill, I don’t suggest it. ‘Don’t Ask Why’ does not suggest: Made in Italy, sophisticated soft basics.
  2. Teens are not dumb. They can see what’s going on. Some will care, some will not. But for those who do, it’s kind of an insult to their intelligence.
  3. Brand Loyalty, Respect, Trust, Authenticity. Teens like Brandy because it is something to call their own, within a network that’s all their own. And it feels authentic to them. Teens like American Eagle for what it is. Awesome jeans and shorts. They may not be keen on a mainstream big box brand taking on an indie vibe for the masses. Just like Snapchat, teens like things where adults aren’t. 
  4. Collabs and social media works pretty well. Working out an underground collab with teens and teen models on IG with Brandy and AE jeans and shorts would have been a much better strategy to win back teen audience and gain influence as one of America’s #1 denim brands. Perhaps a strong social media strategy including hundreds – no, thousands of awesome shots of top influencers wearing your AE brand with the Brandy Melville brand. Brandy doesn’t do denim. But a lot of their shots on IG are girls in denim. The question you should have asked is, “why aren’t they wearing AE denim, and how can we fill that gap?”
  5. Unique is important for teens. Teens like finding clothes that set them apart from the others, mixing and matching styles they like. Teens like vintage, new, obscure, different and trendy. Jumping on a bandwagon, creating almost the exact same styles and competing with their favorite brand (and in some cases, charging more) may not win them over. It’s not original. It looks like a desperate attempt. If they want a mainstream brand to wear that emulates Brandy, they will head to Forever21, who is the queen of cheap, knock-off styles.
  6. Leader or Follower? Again, everyone expects F21 to knock off everyone, and it’s pretty much OK because they are a fast fashion company whose schtick is to offer whatever is trendy. But coming from AEO, the biggest American brand, it’s surprising, and may raise doubts.
  7. The brand message is confusing. I don’t understand how the one brand “Don’t Ask Why” can be a testing ground for your main brand “American Eagle”, with two separate labels. In an interview with Racked, Chad Kessler, AE Global Brand President states, “We use ‘Don’t Ask Why’ as a kind of testing lab for the American Eagle brand. For example, the team came back from Coachella with new silhouettes we hadn’t incorporated into the American Eagle collection yet, and now we have those in the works with ‘Don’t Ask Why’. We’ll bring those into ‘Don’t Ask Why’ stores in the next month or so, and if they work, we’ll roll them out for American Eagle.”  Man, WTF?
  8. Stick to What you Know. Denim is the key AE product and their kryptonite; not many big box retailers do it quite as good as AE in fit, quality, variety and price. Girls, teens and adults LOVE American Eagle denim. They just need to stick with that and not be something they’re not in an attempt to gain customers by “chasing” what’s already being done well. Teens love vintage high waist jeans. Don’t believe me, check out these vintage AEO shorts.  AE should do more of that.
  9. Many may not be OK with the ‘one size fits most’ strategy. In fact. Brandy has faced a lot of backlash from news, bloggers, customers and moms with it’s ‘one size’ (which is Small) strategy. A petition was launched at Change.org against American Eagle and Brandy with a “Stop the misrepresentation of women by the “One Size Fits All” label in clothing stores”

That’s my two cents. We all understand that imitation is the best form of flattery, but..no one likes a copycat.

 

Image sources: Brandy Melville, AE.com