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Lane Bryant exec: The art of storytelling is dead for brands

PALM DESERT, CA – A Lane Bryant executive at eTail West 2016 said that a social media campaign went viral as a result of teaming up with influencers, helping the brand infiltrate pop culture and address customers’ body-image concerns.

During the keynote session, “Becoming Social,” the executive discussed Lane Bryant’s initiatives to bring plus-size representation to mainstream media, beginning with social. The retailer’s #ImNoAngel social campaign, in which its models pitted themselves against Victoria’s Secret’s Angel ambassadors, experienced a huge viral effect, partly due to Lane Bryant’s partnerships with influencers as well as strategic advertising methods.

“I believe as far as brands are concerned, the art of storytelling is dead, because we’ve entered the age of conversation,” said Brian Beitler, executive vice president and chief marketing officer of Lane Bryant. “It’s about how well you engage in conversations with clients.

“Building a social brand is not about social media. It’s about ideas and whether or not those ideas are meaningful to the people you care about.”

Accelerating client acquisition
While Lane Bryant’s recent social efforts had an undeniably powerful effect on pop culture, they also contributed to the brand’s bottom line. Following its #ImNoAngel and #ThisBody campaigns, the retailer dramatically reduced the frequency of in-store promotions and saw an increase in margin rates.

The brand introduced the #ImNoAngel campaign in 2015 in a bid to challenge the ideal – and often times unrealistic – image of women promoted by lingerie giant Victoria’s Secret and its Angel models. Lane Bryant hired plus-size spokeswomen, including recent Sports Illustrated cover model Ashley Graham, to star in a lingerie spot that spawned a huge response on social media.

The retailer invited real women to upload selfies or images of themselves via the #ImNoAngel hashtag in an effort to remind plus-sized women of their beauty. The hashtag went viral, despite Lane Bryant spending only $1 million on the television commercial.

Mr. Beitler also purchased advertising space on a subway train in New York, plastering a slew of black-and-white Instagram pictures on its exterior.

Additional efforts to promote the campaign included teaming up with social influencers, such as fashion bloggers, as well as pop culture icons. Singer Fantasia Barrino, Glee’s Amber Riley and Orange is the New Black’s Danielle Brooks all voiced their support.

“In today’s world, you have to understand who drives the conversation, and it’s not you,” Mr. Beitler said. “It’s other people.

“You have to be able to build this holistically,” he said. “Remember your store associates – they are your most social media.

“These are the people who have a real-life conversation the old-fashioned way. Your associates are your most important agents.”

Repeating success
Lane Bryant followed up #ImNoAngel with the #ThisBody campaign, also featuring Ms. Graham. However, the retailer sought to take a different approach to drive conversation and fuel sales.

It placed an advertisement in Vogue that displayed the shadows of several women, with the hashtag #PlusIsEqual superimposed over their figures. No overt branding was visible on the page.

The corresponding television commercial was able to garner 100 million social views. Lane Bryant also tweeted to various entertainment companies, such as NBC and ABC, informing them that it was time for plus-sized women to be equally represented in mainstream society.

The aftereffects of these campaigns transformed how Lane Bryant’s customers viewed the brand. Previously, many of them felt ashamed to be shopping there. Now, they feel proud of their bodies and more confident during their shopping experiences.

Other brands that have experienced a viral social campaign can certainly enjoy a successful follow-up, as Lane Bryant did. However, the key strategy to keep in mind is that the advertising must take a different approach.

“You can’t run the same playbook if you want to generate engagement at scale,” Mr. Beitler said.