Deceptively Skinny

How can a company or brand draw traffic to its website? How can a retail store capture people’s attention? Maybe by doing this:

Released on March 20, 2013, American Eagle invited us to go to their website to purchase our own pair. If this is the first time you have seen or heard about this commercial, you might be wondering what is going on with those jeans and what is American Eagle doing? Thankfully, they are not actually trying to sell these “limited edition” Skinny Skinny jeans. The “jeans” featured in the commercial are in fact spray paint on the models, which American Eagle isn’t trying to sell either. I don’t think anyone wants that trend to start! Their goal with this ad campaign is to grab our attention, which I think it did. The commercial leaves viewers slightly confused and wanting to know more, and the obvious place to look for answers is American Eagle’s Website, which draws in traffic.

Here you see the two “styles” of jeans, which are indeed spray paint cans. Prior to April Fools Day, it appeared you could buy the spray paint, but it was (always) out of stock. However, you could sign up to receive an email when more paint was available, resulting in the company capturing your email address. Now when you go to their site, you can receive a coupon for $10 off REAL American Eagle jeans.

This campaign, while strategically deceptive, seems to be successful. As James Twichell explains in Lead Us into Temptation, “What advertising does and how it does it has little to do with the movement of specific goods.” This commercial was strategic in this way because it does not advertise a specific product, or even a product at all. The campaign, I feel, had more to do with American Eagle’s brand image and drawing attention to the brand. As Bob Holobinko, American Eagle’s vice president of brand marketing, said, “we just wanted to have fun, and have fun with our fans, and it was a good opportunity to kind of push it from a brand standpoint and the response has been incredible.” Taking a risk to deceive yet entertain their audience was worth it.

While I commend their creativity and think this campaign is quite clever, I wonder what the impacts are for the future of advertising, especially the lines of deceptive advertising. While entertaining, it is deceptive from the commercial to the appearance that you can indeed purchase the spray cans. However, people tend to find this acceptable because it is rather funny and ten days later:

AE April Fools

So, do you think this kind of deceptive advertising is acceptable because of its entertaining and playful nature? Or do you think advertisements like this could lead to more issues and mistrust about the nature of advertising?

Laura Tippett

29 thoughts on “Deceptively Skinny

  1. This is such an captivating topic, and raises questions in many different regards. I was really interested by the innovative marketing technique that American Eagle used to promote themselves. While I agree that it definitely was an ingenious promotion technique, major questions of ethicality are raised (as you pointed out). I think that it is a funny April fools joke, and ONLY funny for April 1st. I find it ludicrous that this “joke” went on for what appears to be more than a week, before patrons were finally told the truth. For me, this marketing approach definitely crosses boundaries, and this could only be construed as “justified” if it lasted only the length of the April Fools holiday (one day). Bob Holobinko, whom commented on the campaign, obviously needs to think through the overall impact that the misleading campaign had on the brand. While it may increase traffic, I think it could lead the brand down a path of mystery (deception), that they might be required to maintain consumer interest. It is a very sneaky approach that harnesses potential consumer’s information for the use of the brand. I think American Eagle should have thought the campaign through a little more from an ethically responsibility standpoint.

  2. I think this was such a funny commercial, I don’t see how it got so controversial! It was just poking fun! I don’t think “deception” is even the proper word… Maybe more like “gullible”…

  3. I thought that this was very interesting. I did not know about this campaign. I think that this deceptive advertising could lead to issues of mistrust about advertising. American Eagle didn’t harm or anyone or cause problems, but other companies may try and replicate the deceptive advertising that is being used and it may not work as well. Advertising a product in a false way could also cause some customers to be upset with a company. When people purchase products they expect to receive the product they ordered not something different.

  4. First of all, I thought this ad was hilarious, witty, and an extremely genius marketing ploy. If I were to listen to this ad without seeing their obviously bare behinds, I too would’ve gone straight to the AEO website to check these jeans out. Who wouldn’t want a pair of Skinny Skinny jeans? But that would’ve been my FOMO (fear of missing out) speaking. Between the excellent advertising and $10 off coupon, I would’ve wanted to be the first to have these (assuming they were real/acceptable in society).
    The word ‘deceptive’ has such a negative connotation. I think this commercial is borderline obvious in the fact that there is no fabric involved with these Skinny Skinny jeans. Of course, their “purchasable spray cans” online make the whole joke factor questionable, but nonetheless even more amusing. Because It was an April Fools joke, it makes it acceptable. Had it been any normal day, I might have been more confused. However, because the brand itself is so pure and wholesome, I think this April Fools joke was a smart move for American Eagle. Critics might think it’s slightly inappropriate for AEO’s younger demographic, however, I think it’s just what they needed for a more fun and flirty brand personality. I don’t dislike or distrust AEO because of this ad. If anything, I respect their risqué approach to advertisement and ability to spice it up to get people talking.
    Not only did AEO make me not want to miss out on their Skinny Skinny jeans (if their was no nudity involved, of course), but they gave me a good laugh as well.

  5. I think this one case of deceptive advertising is understandable, but who’s to say the next company won’t have such a fun-loving attitude? These kinds of stunts, while clever and entertaining, make me wonder about how deceptive the future of advertising really will be – where do we draw the line?

  6. Wow! This was a sneaky move American Early! At first, I was completely confused about how tight those jeans were on the models and instantly knew something was not right. Believe it or not, I think American Early did obtain their goal of grabbing the attention of their audience, and at the same time promote their brand. Like AE’s vice president stated, “We just wanted to have fun, and have fun with our fans, and it was a good opportunity to kind of push it from a brand standpoint and the response has been incredible.” I have to agree with this statement because although the commercial was awkward and confusing at first, by coming out and stating it was a April Fool’s joke everything made sense and indeed, made AE seem like an outgoing, fun store where people from a diverse background can shop and express themselves freely without being judged about what they like to wear.

  7. I buy all of my jeans from American Eagle and I receive all their promotion texts/emails so this “deceptive” video didn’t really affect me. I knew when I watched the video and saw the “jeans” that they were painted on and in fact not real jeans. I think American Eagle is a good and already well-known brand and this just helped make them more well-known. I think this video, intertwined with April Fool’s day, was a clever and not too serious idea. It was fun and was used to bring in attention and more customers. All advertising is deceptive in one way or another if you really think about it.

  8. When I watched this advertisement I immediately thought of the commercials that Saturday Night Live creates and plays during the show. These commercials are funny, playful, and obivously not real to the audience. This is exactly what I think American Eagle was trying to do with their advertisement. For the age group that Amercian Eagle tries to target I think it is a clever and unique way to reach this demographic and isn’t deceptive. Instead, it fits the audience, the time, April Fool’s Day, and does offer the benefit of the $10 off coupon for real jeans, which I think everyone would be happy about in the end.

  9. I think American Eagle was successful in creating such an out of the box marketing campaign. In this consumer driven world, the highly competitive advertising world is comprised of many interchangeable companies, all looking to gain new customers and maintain the old. With so many bombarding advertisements, it is hard to stand out unless companies find a unique perspective to advertise their product or brand. In the particular advertisement, American Eagle wants to bring attention to their brand. If the commercial was a typical clothing commercial, it would not gain much attention. However, due to the humorous and controversial nature of the commercial, this ad campaign has generated online buzz and attention. Just what the company wanted. The main purpose of this ad campaign was to get people talking about the brand. They wanted to pull consumers in and convince them to visit their website in order to solve the mystery of the commercial. The main objective of this commercial was to get consumers on the website, only to find out there is no such thing as skinny skinny jeans, but you can get 10% off of their regular jeans! How convenient! Although this deception may help in their sales and brand awareness, it also brings into question the ethicality of these advertisements. I think you brought up a good point about the future of advertisements, and whether or not this campaign will lead to similar deceptive tactics. Although genius, this ad campaign is deceptive to consumers, thinking they are being sold skinny skinny jeans, when in reality they don’t exist. I think this campaign will lead to many discussions about the future of advertising and how far companies will go to generate profits and brand awareness.

  10. Although the advertisement is being called deceptive, i think it’s more funny than anything else. Commercials always seem to use the same old “my product will work better than yours” scheme. I think its refreshing for a company to go out on a limb like this and make fun of the skinny jean trend. Also it could be a really good way to get people to browse your website once they go online to see if it is a joke or not. I saw a commercial like this a few weeks ago for under armor. They showed a woman jogging in a temperature controlled suit. At the end of the commercial it stated that under armor is always working on the latest technology. This lead me and my friends to search online to see if they really were making this suit. We soon found out they weren’t, but it definitely got us talking about the brand.

  11. I actually really admire what American Eagle did here with this commercial, and this whole advertising scheme. I can agree with those who deem it deceptive, because it is, but I overall think the ad to be not only humorous, but effective. The commercial itself is humorous because it’s pretty obvious that the jeans aren’t real….something is obviously off when we can see every detail of the model’s legs. This sparked curiosity in those who watched the commercial, leading them to go to the website of American Eagle to find out more – which is exactly what they wanted out of this. It was also funny to me how they kept the joke running and had the spray paint “available for sale” on the website. I commend them on the joke they pulled, I think it was very creative. The only flaw I find in this was that they kept it running for a little too long to the grouped as just an April Fool’s joke.

  12. I think this ad raises some interesting points. I mean, why shouldn’t a brand be able to be silly and creative with their clients? But on the other hand (for the larger audience who doesn’t know much about American Eagle or their products), those people were not wearing pants. It could add to the ‘sensationalist’ advertising campaigns– making ads more and more extreme to gain more attention (even if it’s negative) so people will talk about the brand. American Eagle may have done it more effectively/ with more class than other brands may be able to, but I do think it is nearing a fine line in advertising.

  13. This commercial maybe deceptive but it definitely grabs the attention of it viewers. I dont believe this commercial should cause controversy because the commercial was created to have its viewers thinking about AE and their brand which this commercial does well.

  14. This is brilliant! This is the first time seeing this video for me and I can honestly say American Eagle definitely achieved their goal of drawing the customer in. Even after knowing this was fake, I still wanted to check further into these “skinny skinny jeans”. Although their advertising approach may have been deceitful, considering the timing being April Fools and their obvious playful attempt to broadcast their brand, I believe this was a wonderful way to reel in customers. I highly doubt people thought that American Eagle intentions were to lie to the people. As a matter of fact, I’ll probably go buy some new American Eagle jeans now!

  15. I think that this type of advertising is bad for the American Eagle brand. While yes some consumers may find it to be a funny joke, I believe that others will find it very deceptive. This deceptiveness may be just enough to push these consumers away from buying American Eagle product. With that being said, the commercial definitely did exactly what it wanted to do. It got people to talk and to research more about the product. So while it is deceptive, American Eagle accomplished exactly what it wanted too.

  16. Verrrrrrry smooth move American Eagle. But at the same time, very questionable move. Since this mock commercial was aired for april fools day, it as acceptable for the company to air a silly fake ad. But what will happen due to the success of this ad. As long as AE chooses to promote actual clothing, and can keep their audience as interested as they were in the skinny-skinny I don’t think that they will start “deceiving” their customers. If they do- that’s where the problem starts. It is imperative for trust to stay in the mix. It will be interesting to see what commercials for American Eagle follow the mock ad.

  17. As far as advertising campaigns go, this is brilliant. It is engaging, entertaining and inspires the responder to investigate further. All boxes are ticked. On the flip side, if ‘deceptive advertising’ becomes an industry norm, then what will the future of consumer behaviour look like? Will we all be trying to purchase products that don’t actually exist. Blurring the lines between genuine promotion and attention seeking stunts is dangerous territory!

  18. After watching this video, it seems like anyone who couldn’t tell it was fake either forgot to put their contacts in that morning or had no grasp on the spirit of April Fools. With that being said, regardless of whether a viewer fell for this ad, I do believe that it is a strong marketing tool. Even if I had immediately called their bluff the first time seeing it I might still be inclined to go visit their website to see if the ad was linked with a real special or sale. The idea behind this commercial I don’t think was to fool anyone, but instead just to give consumers something to chatter about. An ad like this is just a clever tool to spark word of mouth and intrigue amongst customers. I think it is a very strong marketing strategy because it is something out of the ordinary that we haven;t necessarily seen before. I expect to see more ads like this start to take shape in the future.

  19. I lean towards the more playful aspect on this one — mostly due to the timing of it all. Because they centered it around April Fools, I don’t consider this to be deceptive advertising. The idea of purchasing the spray paint also seems so far fetched that it couldn’t possibly be real (thereby not truly “tricking” anyone or being deceptive). I think this was a great idea to gather more website traffic. However, using the spray paint e-mail notification to capture e-mail addresses is the only questionable part of the campaign to me. Overall, I think the campaign is innovative and interesting, and will likely generate much discussion about the ethics of advertising.

  20. With a deceptive commercial like this it leaves the viewer confused and eager to know more. I believe this commercial is ridiculous and I found it a waste of my time. If all businesses began to make phony commercials like this, it would lead to mistrust in companies. However, it definitely grabbed the attention of the viewer and left me wanting to know more.

  21. I feel like this advertising scheme is pretty brilliant. There are too many companies out there trying to advertise their product by saying how much better their’s is compared to another brand. American Eagle on the other hand, played a simple joke that got so many viewers and customers interested, without bashing another company. To me that is genius, and a simple and fun way to advertise. In regards to whether this is deceptive or unethical, I would have to say in way, it obviously is, but not the point where you are deceiving customers enough to never buy your brand again. In fact, if anything, American Eagle is bringing in more customers.

  22. I can definitely see the deception in the commercial, it’s obvious. But the the other thing that was even more obvious was the models bare ass walking away at the end of the commercial. It was just a joke! I find it hard to believe that people would watch that and actually believe that American Eagle is starting a trend based on walking around naked with spray paint all over your body. I know people can be gullible, but seriously? I actually think it was a great campaign and the fact that they found a way to capture more email addresses is really smart. I work in retail myself and trying to get the number of email addresses that the head office requires of my store each month is almost impossible unless we come up with an incentive for our customers to give out their personal information. And ok, maybe they did let the joke run for a little too long, but it was all in the name of a good laugh and a way to grab their customers attention, which it seems they did very well.

  23. After seeing this false advertisement fill up my news feed, I couldn’t help but watch this video to see what all of this fuss was about. My jaw dropped when I saw a shot of the jeans they were trying to sell! I couldn’t believe that American Eagle had taken the skinny jean trend to this extreme level. I even laughed at how obsurd this was and brushed the advertisement off as a joke. I also reposted the advertisement to my own Facebook wall. I believe this advertisement was a success because it not only made people laugh but it also got people talking. If there is one thing I have learned from my IMC class, it is that word of mouth can bring great success for a business. Even though the product American Eagle was advertising was fake, it drummed up a lot of discussion about them as a brand, which is never bad for business.

  24. This is too crazy. I never actually saw that commercial, but I do actually remember going to the AE website to look around at some stuff and get really confused about the spray paint cans. Also, Since im in their email list, i would get lots of emails about the “skinny skinny” jeans and get really confused. how could they make their jeans ANY skinnier?
    While I do think this is a way to reel in customers, and is very entertaining, they have to make sure they don’t cross the line. I think that having a little fun in advertising never hurt anyone, but not everyone has the same sense of humor. Some people could get offended or mad about advertisements like these. I like American Eagles spunk and different way of getting customers and I personally think its a great idea and really funny.

  25. I think this idea American Eagle of the deceptive campaign is very clever in different ways. First, I think that it is innovative, they came up with something totally different, they make a risky decision, that worked. Besides, I think that the main objective of this kind of campaigns is to create brand awareness rather than to sale a particular product. Hence, I think this is a creative example of how to get your audience’s attention. I believe it was a smart campaign because as it is unusual, it makes people wonder what is this all about. By doing that, AE is using a Word-Of-Mouth Marketing strategy, since they are giving people a reason to talk about that, by the way, works effectively. Last, I think that this deceptive campaign is acceptable because its main goals is to entertain their fans, their consumers. It was innovative and now it is part of the personality of the brand. “A fun brand for young people”.

  26. Brilliant. Funny, deceptive, yes, but brilliant. As a buyer of AE jeans, I am familiar with their ad tactics. It captures attention but also sends the message of body image. Truth be told, AE jeans are more versatile, and for those with the ahem larger posterior (thank goodness someone made them!) so I also find it ironic! Not only does the concept of the spray paint intrigue visitors, but also encourages repeated site visitation which must have boosted sales.

  27. It is a clever way to get people to notice your products. Some may say it is unethical. Which raises the question of how far will this deception go? And how much deception is okay?

  28. Very funny ad. I completely thought this was like any other ad. However, I did notice that jeans seemed rather..tight. I think it’s a creative way to draw attention to their product. But at first sight when I saw this commercial, I was immediately drawn to how the pants looked. To the un-trained eye, and lack of research, one would think this is the actual product they will receive. Wether that reaction be positive or negative, I think it’s important to maintain reality and perception of the product you intend to sell. What you see is what you get.

  29. In terms of the acceptability of this kind of advertising, I do think it is acceptable. It is acceptable most specifically because of the product (retail clothing) and because of the timing. I think it would be absolutely inappropriate for a brand that sold a more vital product, such as a medicine, to use this type of deceptive advertising. Since this is an article of clothing, that you really can find at any other store if you were truly upset about this joke, then this is okay and humorous. Additionally, I do not think that American Eagle is planning on making a habit out of this type of advertising; they clearly chose to do this in the spirit of April Fools day. I think this joking nature did a really good job of making their brand more relatable to this teen/young adult target audience that they aim at reaching. This joke makes the brand seem almost like your “buddy” who likes to joke around and have fun, and ultimately it is successfully portraying that their clothes are fun and flirty too.
    On the flip side though, I think advertising campaigns like this may be somewhat of a waste of money. American Eagle spent what I’m sure was a good chunk of money on this phony product, which yes had brought people to their website, but has nothing to do with a tangible product that they are selling. I think it may be more financially beneficial for a brand to advertise its actual products so a consumer can go to their websites with what they want in mind. This way, the company is assured that they will at least buy that one product. In the case of the joke advertising the brand is not assured that all people who came to the site will take the time to search the site for something new and buy something.

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