Case Study: 5 American Apparel Campaigns


Smart PR for Artists & Entrepreneurs


Lesson Info

Case Study: 5 American Apparel Campaigns

So we're gonna talk about some case studies were going to go I want to show I think I'm gonna show you five campaigns that it did for american apparel that I think illustrate why all those myths are in fact myths and what lessons we can learn from them. Um so these air five ad campaigns each one cost less than fifteen hundred dollars, so they're all very much in our budgets they all got quite a lot of publicity drove significant sales let's say, um, one hundred times are oh, I uh and and they're all, I think, very doable by you guys and by everyone in the audience. So this is one and by the way, so american apparel has this reputation of being like a oh yeah, sex sells of course, right? So I want to show only one of these ads you're going to see and one of them is quite sexual, but only one of the five campaigns is sexual so they could all fit in your thing and so try try not to think about the specific adds think about what they represented, how you could do uh um your own version, ri...

ght? So we've won this is a maternity add this one is sasha grey, the porn star, and then this one is a, uh, elderly woman um and then this one is in response to a lawsuit that we faced so I'll go back through them so have pets uh maternity sex sells will call we have advanced basics alright and then we'll look at the press so pretty much everywhere that could pick up these things did we have adweek got the daily mail in the uk so this is like so un ad runs on a tiny block in the u s and then the next thing you know they're talking about in the u k er and bc jezebel that was um hollywood reporter portland mercury cnbc fleshpots finally twenty nine hollywood reporter so why did the ads work? I guess we can I guess we could review sort of where they all ran and I think you will sort of get what I'm doing here which is all right so there's a puppy style add this ran on this friend in uh two thousand nine thousand ten youtube had just rolled out its advertising platform and they were like, hey, you know we have this new program you can advertise videos you can even put ads next to specific videos on youtube I thought like we should run our dog clothes ads on like pew pet videos so this ran like on a skateboarding dog video and so the headline on cnbc is, you know, skateboarding dog american apparel ad right this very interesting who who would actively seek out advertising on a skateboarding dog video? Um this one ran on two blog's I ran on deuce, which is a mommy blogger and it ran on some other parenting blawg um and these are we didn't actually have a maternity line these air, just extra large sizes like stretching clothes that were basically unemployed took photos of another pregnant employees wearing american apparel. We said, hey, that could work! Why don't we run this on these two mommy block ads? The screenshots of those ads immediately got picked up on the least blog's got tons of publicity the sasha grey adds, this came I wont leave it on the screen, but that came out of almost a dare someone said, can we run ads where the models aren't wearing any clothes? And I said, sure, we can't we'll just have to find a blogger that won't care. And so we found two blog's I think we pay them seven hundred fifty dollars each to run the ads for one week and then we sent the screen shots tio host of other media and instantly the news is american apparel is huge new ad campaign featuring naked models blew up I think the model was paid like fifty dollars an hour or some ridiculous number on dh then this ad ran somewhat recently this was our creative director found this woman in a restaurant and she just said, your beautiful can I take your picture and we ran this ad on a site called advanced style, which is awesome on dh it's exclusively very dapper well dressed elderly people and so we went we designed this at around a specific site it's the only site it ran on um and again the the ads get picked up everyone and they get a bunch of attention. So and then this ad ran in the daily bruin student newspaper it's the only one it was responding to a very controversial lawsuit we felt like our voice wasn't being heard we felt we felt we wanted to advance certain narratives in the media we ran this ad uh and immediately became a news story in a way that just sort of talking to the media wasn't working so let's go through his results again yes, so I know you're going to get further into your examples, but on you might actually cover this, but when you're working on these campaigns say you have an idea that may deviate from the the tone of the company the attributes that kind of defined the brand in there messaging but it's a damn good idea do you do pursue something like that thinking that it could bend drive some sort of value or do you really try to stick with what the brand represents well, I didn't even go either way on that, right? What? You have to know who you are and what you stand for, and you don't want to go out and just do things that sort of send the opposite message that you're trying to ascend you're trying to send, but doing the way to get attention is by doing things that people don't expect and that are new and exciting and interesting, and one of the best ways to do that is to reinvent yourself, to say something new, to go on a different, unexpected direction on dh that's what we did with all these ads, right, every single one of those is not what you would expect from an american apparel ad and that's why, with such a tiny budget, they got such a disproportionate amount of media attention. And so what? What? I'm trying so why did the ads work right? Why did they get coverage for free? Usually a company buys an ad and then they have to spend millions of dollars getting people to see it right, and you have to pay to be in the news. And why did these ads stopping ads and start being? Content and that's because we knew who our audience was we design something that was new and provocative and interesting and then we made sure that we didn't just run these ads on two sites that have very small audiences and hope that it happened right? This was a campaign, so we run the ads we put out way make sure that our media contacts and know that we're running these ads we announce that we're doing this and then since it actually does exist it's it's it's an event right? It's a news event american apparel's new ad campaign does x um and these ads were they were tailored for social sharing online, so these are the kind of adds that you show people the problem with internet advertising in a lot of marketing is people think that it's just a about communicating what you're trying to trying to communicate so they focus on tonight that I say everything I was trying to say and what they don't think about they don't empathize with the people they want to see it they don't think is this so interesting and weird and cool that other people will be compelled to tell other people so american apparel has an ad budget that is a fraction of our competitors and the reason we're able to do that and get away with it is because we make interesting things that people want to talk about and we don't this goes to the controversy that we don't care about pissing off people who don't like us, we care that the people who do like us like the stuff and share it with their friends, and if if the if the media you're doing, if the if the kind of content you're creating doesn't compel that reaction. It's not worth spending their money on, and this is one of my favorite quotes. So henry jenkins he's, a professor at the mit media lab, he likes to say it doesn't spread its debt because if you're a small company of your small business, if you're a journalist, whatever you're doing, if you make things and it doesn't compel people to show other people, the only option that you have is to spend all your money forcing other people to look and that's how the old media model works, right? I'm gonna I'm gonna buy this ad, and then every time you turn on your tv, you're going to see it well, you guys don't have those kind of budgets, and neither do I. So the way to make up for that is to make something that you only have to show to a small group of people because that group of people want to share it and they like it, and they don't see it as an ad, right? Yes, well, good questions coming in from online, man. A lot of a lot of dialogue taking place, sir. Thank you, guys so much for being active in the chat room. This idiot questions goes to exactly what you were just talking about. This comes from sean, and she said that she's been told that stats for print ads don't necessarily bring in new business, but rather helps build brand identity. Is that you? So he talks a bit about those ass? Is that all about getting bottom line sales for american apparel or brand identity? And should people we weren't my brand identity or dollars and cents? Yeah, so I think we're definitely gonna talk about advising and day two, but these ads, I'm actually thinking about it the same way that you would as a print ad, which is that this is an event you've purchased this canvas that that has public visibility, are you gonna paint something boring there, or you going to paint something interesting there? That's how you want to think about it? Don't think if you're thinking, how can I use this to drive sales right now, you're probably not thinking about it the right way, I think about it more is what I'm creating here gonna get facebook, likes is going to get twitter shares their people going toe. We do print if you think about it this way, if everyone could think about at american apparel ad really quickly, that isn't one of these chances are you didn't see that ad in the actual publication that it ran in because we run in publications that you guys don't really read. You saw that ad online, someone scanned it, they took a photo of it, they told you about it, it was in a news story. And now think about what other businesses you can say that too you can say that about there's not many, right? The only time I see a microsoft at is when microsoft paid for me to see it, but sometimes I see apple ads because, like friends of mine are sharing them on facebook and that's, if you look at their ad budgets, microsoft spends something like twice a cz muchas apple does. And so this this goes to the quote, were talking about earlier getting press is no longer a buyer's market it's a seller's market, so you make things that blog's come by. They want, um, you make content that is worth sharing, and when it's worth sharing, you don't have to work so hard to get it in front of people, um, in the question way have a lot of really good impressions cool, so video, video pack and also a lot of other people asked similar questions they're just wondering how do you find specific logs to run your ads how do you find the best blob? We'll certainly in the case of these ads what we were looking for is not who's going to get it in front of the most people but where is where is this wagon to resonate the most right? So we didn't we didn't run the nude advertisements on mommy blogger we didn't run the maternity ads on an ad on a site that would be okay with with like sort of a not safer work site so I like to pick sights once that are influential but affordable and where I think the owner of the site is going to be a good sport about that advertisement where they're going to want to talk about the ad on their own site so like don't buy on the huffington post because they have now I'm not saying don't buy but if you buy an ad on the huffington post there's not someone who's like thank you so much I want to write about your ad advertise on advertising a site that doesn't usually get a lot of advertisements that doesn't get money from a company like yours usually when you do that they're going to be much more receptive and you're gonna be able to build a relationship that's going toe last longer than that specific things so and then just a little follow up to that lynn photo is asking is there truly a reliable site that highlights the top logs in a certain area? Can you help them find what they're looking for? Yeah so and this is something we're going to talk about later one of the guests is going to come on he's going to talk about that my response to that question my sort of my quick response is always if you don't know who the influential blog's in your space are, you shouldn't be thinking about marketing you should think about how you don't even know your own industry on dh you're putting the cart way before the horse so you know all the influential people in the woods space right? Like you know who your customers are and you know what they're reading and if you don't I would say let's hold on a second and figure out who those people are because you should be reading them so you understand the trends within your own industry you see how your competitors aire getting press you see what things are making people talk what's catching their attention you should be reading fashion vlogs for inspiration for your business and if you're not just finding out who they are so you can market to them to me seems like misguided and you know who's important in the food space you know who's important in your local space um you should be reading those things every day and so for all the sites that we ran on for these american apparel ads there's they're very small and but they're they're disproportionately influential in that space I knew that the reporters who I cared about were reading this site and that's why advertise there that's why I started there and I made something that was so interesting that that blood would have to talk about it and then after that block talked about it than other blog's talked about it and other blog's all the way up to you know, a bunch of these ads made made television coverage so they spend a thousand dollars you do a photo shoot, you placed the ad and then the next thing you know you're on the nightly news and that's how this cycle works if you do it right if you make something that's boring and you put it on the wrong site don't even bother last question that they will let you continue are clear. So when you look at american apparel household name right, people know about any mission earlier about our strategies and you write really in depth in this in your book about sometimes having to upset right the establishment so if someone isn't at the level of an american apparel, is there any risk in upsetting the establishment or going too far in getting pressed this way there's certainly there's unintended consequence that everything you do and I think we'll talk about risk is well, but we are a household name, but blobs and everyone on social media need stuff to talk about, and you, khun b that thing, and if you're not going to be that thing, they're going to talk about someone else. So you want to figure out what moves that needle, what are the kinds of of subject matters in your space that seem to, uh, be conducive teo to media coverage? And then you you want to take your message to those to those things, and it doesn't matter if you're newsworthy right now, if you do something newsworthy, then you are newsworthy, right? It seems it seems almost too easy, but that's true, if if if what you do is worth writing about and we'll get paid use, you'll get coverage, and I think, um, I think american apparel accidentally discovered this stuff. We we were running ads, and we kept noticing how they would be re tweeted and talked about and republished, and they would they would serve his media attention, sari as conduits to media conversations, and what I'm trying to say is that anyone can adopt those strategies um, and this is one of my favorite quotes, but it's it's from ender's game, which is a great science fiction book but he's saying, you know, we play by their rules long enough and it becomes their game if you figure out the kinds of the kinds of material that generates coverage and you make those things your you're going to you're going, you're truly going to see what a buyer's market or what a seller's market is, what if seller's market it is on dh how easily these things will come, teo and yeah, I mean, just just to think about that you spend fifteen hundred dollars on an ad it's seen as an advertisement like on the site just a few thousand times, but then it does hundreds of thousands of impressions, real impressions like when someone sees an ad, they have a certain kind of relationship to it, right? They think, oh, that's an ad, I don't want it there I wanted to go away, but that same added a new story it's different we have a different relationship to that kind of content. So I like to think about advertisements and marketing message marketing messages that transcend that that advertising space I like to think about if we stop doing this, if we stopped running ads on this site when people notice they'd say, hey, what happened to that american apparel ad I liked it was interested um that you don't you don't say that about ninety nine point nine percent of the marketing messages that brands put out because they're they're not thinking about it from the perspective of of what will spread there, thinking about it from their own selfish perspective of oh, I like this photo or we have an event next week we have to tell people about it. What they don't say is, how could we make something? How can we make a trojan horse? How can we make something that's worth sharing that, through the process of sharing, communicates the fact that we have an event next week? Um, so I just thought we sort of go through these campaigns, is it it's an interesting or better way of looking at the world? Um, that one too. Once you've internalized, I think it will make a lot of the other stuff ah, lot easier, and joey the designer who's going to come on in a minute or so. I think he's done this really well, so he makes great products. Um, he understands his space, and when he launches a product he's not having to ram it down anyone's throat, they're very receptive to that message because because he's meeting them where they are, can you use a personal example to get some advice on great s o this is for real time feedback for the marketing team that's actually watching and using this this morning, we launched a campaign around google glass, so on wednesday there was a video put out a really cool commercial with what google glass khun d'oh s o three degrees in the glasses that you're it's complete, augmenting the real. And so we did a parallel of a real product that we're launching on being the first at for google glass. Okay on, we launched at this morning and the, you know, geek wire picked it up, it's, a local balog here, and they're writing about it, hoping to work up that chain as well. So my question is, how do you how do you create a campaign again? Visibility on content that's really timely? Well, I think first of what you're doing is not how most people think about the world, but it's really important, and I want everyone to get so everyone's talking about google glass there's a newsworthy brand new thing, there's not a lot of other than google's announcement there's not a lot of things to talk about, right? So what you're doing is you're you're announcing something, you're announcing an app that doesn't really exist yet correct, right? But because stories about google glass, they're doing well. They can talk about you and they want to talk about you like if you're mashable or geek wire you want more stories about google glass because that's what your readers are interested in and you as a brandon as a company are seeing that need and providing content that fulfills that need and then getting rewarded with media coverage um and that's not how most people think about it they think uh how can I just get them to know they're they're not meeting the site where they are and they're not understanding those other people's needs so in terms of timeliness I don't know if I would have specific advice for your situation I would just think about um how can you so okay so here's one one one thing that that so you've got one site to pick it up why should another site pick it up? What special things do you have for the next site what what else do you have in reserve that should be added right so the first site talks about the thing right? What other photos so give wire picks it up right what photo can you give to mashable that allows them to write another story about it but add something new um and what he's talking about something will address a little bit it's called news jacking but basically the the idea is this thing is in the news and it's it's hot and it's driving attention how can I insert my brand or company into that discussion by adding a new perspective aura knew uh a new layer to it so people are talking about this new product that has a new video oh and here's the first fake app for that thing like oh sweet another news story about it just to add to that point right there a lot of people thinking the mission it's online that is getting that first image out or that press release but that's just the opening move you have to have something in reserve can you impact that a little bit more yeah and and that's what these ads illustrate right it's first you do the interesting thing then you fight the then you find the site to run it on then you get a site to cover it you don't just go well it's out of my hands now because it's not out of your hands you you you now you have proof of concept now you have proof that your thing is worthy of attention and people are responding to it we'll talk about some specific strategies but I don't leave it to chance that other bloggers we'll find out about this thing so you if fashionista writes about you how do you uh how do you make sure that an editor at vogue sees that article on dh? It makes it clear that your thing has been vetted because the media wants to write about what everyone else is writing about, because and no one wants to be the first person, so getting the first getting the first coverage is very important because no one wants to be first that's your hard part. But then after you want to make sure that you encourage everyone else to jump on the man wagon behind me, e mails and things on facebook, you read about our company website just launched, right? That's it we lost. Now, who cares? Keep moving, getting questions online here? Yeah, we do, actually, but I think somebody grabbed the mic and I just think it's interesting, right? As a small business, we think about, you know, the difference between tactics versus strategy, right, and what you're talking about, really a strategic and, you know, sometimes as business owners and founders and creative director, because that's what? You know, we were all the different hands we don't think aboutthe long term, right? I definitely get posted on, you know, refinery twenty nine and then I stand back and I say, well, okay, great. I had a hunch, you know, a couple sails, right? Great, but I'm not taking it to the next level and that's like a really anything important and I want you to go over this one beginning, but so for day one, I think let's, let's think about this we're going to think about all this strategically and then day two, we're going to talk about tactics because, it's, you can't have one without the other. Um and if you're just thinking about it strategically it's not gonna matter because you're not putting in the work toe do it if you're willing to hustle. But you you haven't planned this all out it's not gonna go anywhere either, but strategically, I think the big assumptions to remember our they want to talk about you, so so create things that allow them to do it. Um, and then once once it's out there, don't be afraid to push it along and you know, you guys all have twitter followings and you have audience, you have fans, you have email lists, you have friends when someone writes about you, you want to you want to drive those people to those articles because if you did it right, if you made if you made the strategic decision to make an ad that's worth sharing, every person you show it to is going to share it with other people, the problem with we just launched a new website, is that it's boring? And there's not much to tell there now if this is the greatest website that's ever been made and it's got all these hilarious pictures on it or it's it's very sticky and once you see it you spend hours and hours to it and then maybe it is enough to just launch your website but usually people are just like, hey, I wrote this block post check it out and then some of their friends check it out and then they leave and then they're done um because there's there's no compelling reason to do anything after that I think I've experienced that actually business a little bit I will be honest about that so another reason why I'm happy to be here so lots of good questions rolling in l l g media is saying if the company or product is not established yet and not branded which you still create things that could be controversial and wouldn't that affect the branding some way yeah, of course how do you how do you think you become newsworthy you don't how do you how and people think controversy means bad but um newest controversial as well and you become newsworthy by being different than everything else so that's that's inherently controversial in my view so if you're not established I actually like your position better because you have very little to lose uh you can you can shake things up because the alternative is that no one knows who you are and that's clearly worse. Um, I'm not saying that if you're, uh, you know, a child day care, you should do something that pisses off parents that's probably a bad idea, but you should think about what you're doing that's new and exciting and make sure that gets out there. Um and then you could be conservative later, I guess is the way that I would think about it right now, your big the big risk for you is not pissing people off. The big risk for you is complete obscurity. And that, to me, is a lot scarier. I'd rather publish a book and piss a lot of people off, then publish a book that nobody talks about. Um because it's not worth talking about about it. Kind of a new way to define the word controversial too. Yeah, right. Um, yeah, exactly. Okay, thanks. There are some questions. You have another question for you. So small startup. We're super scrappy and sometimes I mean, our motto really is kind of adopting the face, but a lot of just move fast and break things, and sometimes we break things a lot faster than we should, and the question is, is there such a thing is too early, so to give context we don't actually have the app ready to launch, but weird's in private beta and we're collecting emails right s we're getting ready to launch but this google thing happens quicker do we? We skip out on it to wait until we actually drive people to the ap, you know, like how much of it is being scrappy versus being buttoned up in strategic um I always tend to lead in favor uh, of seizing opportunities when they're there because who knows if you're going to get another one and if that means you've got to go a little bit earlier than you wanted. It's castor business casey, do you have anything? I'm just curious if we have to, you know, do I have to make an ad for the photo shoot and all these things? Or can I just have a cool story, right? You know, these ads are just one interesting thing that we do, so for you, maybe it's you decide to give a bunch of your organic, healthy meals to a homeless shelter, right? Um and that is something worth talking about. And then when you put out your press release or you pitch a blogger about it when they write about it that's such an unusual or generous or cool thing to do that other people are going to talk about it, it doesn't you're you you do these things in the medium and in the fashion that makes the most sense for your business. We're a fashion company so advertisements are our medium. But if we were something else, we would do something else he's a little bit about sort of sort of the wheels are turning as you say, controversy is good, but with controversy you lose a little bit of control of your messaging. Of course. So you know, for instance, in the food services industry we could talk about sort of the current controversy around wages for for folks in food service so that's something that's very front of mind right now I think we can tell a different story, but if I try and get in front of it but I also lose control about what is the blogger, the author the writer want to say and so how do you embrace controversy without being too afraid of the lack of control over the story? That's being told you know it's funny that you bring it up because I got so many media crest for american about could you please put out a statement? Could you tell us what you think about this law? So what I see there is there's a lot of people who want to write about about this thing because it's newsworthy and a shortage of things to talk about and so I would think about for you what could you put out there that you feel like represents your brand well that fulfills that need I don't know what it would be off the top of my head but um I mean, I would not maybe go people like the people hold companies to a very high standard, so I would probably I like to err on the side of telling people what they want to hear a little bit so I wouldn't you know, like when the when the dude from whole foods came out like against health care for now you've just made yourself a target I probably wouldn't do that I would think about what's a positive thing that we could add to this discussion politics I think the best thing to do is positive is a positive thing that we could add to this discussion what's a statement that we could make that would allow people to talk about us in a way that, um we want maybe there isn't one and then you don't do it but I would think about whether there is or not um but that's a that's a great example of sort of identifying a current hot topic identifying um ah sort of a match our relevance between your brand and that topic and then coming out or producing something that could that could do that or that could connect those things

Class Description

Getting free media attention is a powerful and often misunderstood communication tool. Join media strategist and best selling author Ryan Holiday for his course on how to create smart, savvy and provocative PR campaigns.

Whether you are a business owner, freelance artist or a creative entrepreneur, Ryan’s course will teach you how to get the right kind of attention, without paying for it.

Take your business to the next level with proven strategies and techniques from Ryan Holiday, who at the age of 23yrs, landed one of the most high profile marketing jobs as Marketing Director of American Apparel.

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Aleksandr Staprans

I've been following Ryan Holiday for awhile and have loved his books. This class is a fantastic addition to any marketers self-education toolkit. Ryan provides clear information and, better yet, it is really enjoyable to watch!