True Religion’s First CMO on Influencer Strategies, Creator Collabs and Sports Activations

Posted on by Kaylee Hultgren

While some businesses have eliminated the CMO role from their company org charts in recent months, fashion apparel brand True Religion has taken the opposite approach and hired its first chief marketer. Founded in 2002 and popular throughout the aughts, the brand is experiencing a resurgence today amid current Y2K fashion trends and has shifted to targeting a broader audience with its brand campaigns.

We spoke to CMO Kristen D’Arcy, who has numerous campaigns and integrations across music and sports to speak of just six months into the job, from a collab with rapper Saweetie—its first women-fronted campaign—to NFL and NBA activations to a sizeable spike in TikTok followers. Following is our chat with D’Arcy about the company’s marketing vision, artist collaborations and its forthcoming “Team True” influencer focus group.

Chief Marketer: As the first CMO for the company, what were you tasked with accomplishing?

Kristen D’Arcy, CMO at True Religion: First and foremost, the company brought Michael Buckley back as a second-time-around CEO based on his excellent leadership, vision, and execution of that vision. When he [re]joined in 2019, he made a number of changes across different departments to drive growth and bolster the business overall. And marketing was the last frontier. The remit that I had when I joined was number one, drive mass brand awareness. Number two, of course, was make the brand relevant as a part of that awareness to drive consideration. And then number three—though in no particular order because they’re all equally as important—was drive growth both by acquisition of new customers as well as driving up lifetime value of current customers of the brand.

CM: What marketing programs have you initiated since coming on board?

KD: Coming in only six months ago, I thought, where is the lowest hanging fruit? How do we modernize the way that we’re going to market with some of these programs, doubling down on what we stand for, but starting to create 360-degree campaigns so that there is a consistent message at all times in the market? You have to stand for something, or you’re not standing for anything. So right out of the gate, the marketing team came up with the “style-is-a-gift” holiday campaign concept. We loved the double entendre of “style-is-a-gift.” We wanted to be known as a great gifting destination, not only for the special people in your lives, but also as a treat for yourself when you think about shopping for holiday.

That campaign starred Quavo the rapper and India Love, and we launched it the second week of October. We started with those two with the marquee campaign assets. We then added layers underneath where we had different influencers that were micro, nano and mid-tier talking about #styleisagift. For example, if they had to give two of our products away, what would those product picks be? Who would they be giving them to? And then, what would they keep for themselves, because they loved the product so much? That was a lot of digital-first content. You had the beautiful, marquee campaign images and videos, et cetera, but then there was a lot of behind the scenes.

For instance, there was a making-of with Quavo, where on set… he rolls up his sleeve and shows us that he has a True Religion tattoo that he got when he was a teenager. And he’s like, “I love this brand so much.” It was happening on the fly, and we started to push all of this out there. And within the first month or so, we saw triple-digit traffic growth as a result of the campaign. We were beating our projections with regard to sales across different channels. We saw a tremendous amount of growth in newer channels for us, like TikTok—a 500% increase in followers, double-digit engagement rates across the board, with some of this great content.


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CM: What are the reasons for the brand’s resurgence, in your opinion?

KD: Michael, our CEO, always says that the most important things are people and product. It’s so simple, but it is so true and extremely powerful. When you have the right people around you and you have incredible product that just needs to be romanced through great campaign imagery, with the right influencer and collaboration, partnerships, et cetera, and you’re able to drive awareness of that through this marketing, that’s how synergistically it all comes together.

We just launched a new campaign with female rap talent Saweetie last week, our spring campaign, called “Go there”. The impetus behind it: Consumers are tired of being bombarded by ads. They’re also tired of staying at home. We know that; we see the growth in travel, for example. This has a similar but different double entendre in that we are asking people, as they’re planning their vacations, their spring breaks, as they’re going to Coachella and other festivals, to “Go there,” but go there with your style and take it to the next level with our product.

CM: You’ve activated at the Super Bowl and the NBA All-Star game recently. How does experiential marketing factor into your overall strategy?

KD: We are doing more this year, particularly in Q1, around experiential than we did last year. And why is that? Because we are able to attract new consumers and drive brand love and consideration by being on site, like at the Super Bowl, at these moments that matter to them. To all of a sudden see a brand that perhaps you haven’t thought about in a while, or a brand that you love, alongside this extremely important moment in culture while these sports figures that you love are also wearing the brand, is a great full-circle, 360 moment for us.


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CM: Since True Religion was founded in 2002, there is some heritage to it. How are you appealing to younger generations while keeping with that heritage? Are you consulting any creators?

KD: You have to make sure that you don’t alienate the people that have been with you for a long time while you attract new people into the brand. Yes, we have worked with young creators. We launched a collab with one back in January, whose name is Blu Boy. He’s an incredibly-talented artist. We collaborated with him not only on a physical product line but also the marketing campaign concept. When I met with him and he said, “what do you think if we paint someone blue and have them run around the city?” And I was like, that sounds wild. And lo and behold, that was the crux of the concept—and it was amazing and breakthrough. We saw really good sales associated with that collaboration, and I think it was because we tried to take in a fresh point of view.

We’re also looking at deepening our influencer ties as well as continuing to ignite channels to find new and different consumers. In the next couple of months we are launching a new influencer group called “Team True.” It will feature different actors and actresses, influencers, athletes and celebrities. Stylists will be sending them product every month and they will showcase us as they’re “going there” throughout their day to different events. Maybe they’re just staying at home lounging, but we’re asking them to reveal how True Religion is woven into their lives. Those people will be both friends of the brand that we’ve worked with before as well as new faces. You’ll see some diversity with regard to age and profession there.

The last thing, about turning on new channels and working with different people: We’ll continue to double down on TikTok. As I said, we had 500% growth of our TikTok following as a result of the holiday campaign. We will continue to look at TikTok as a new area of growth. In fact, we will probably be casting a TikTok star for a campaign that we have coming out in March. We’re finalizing those details now.

             Featured photo credit: True Religion


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