Retailer outfits production unit

American Eagle Outfitters has launched 77E, an entertainment production arm as well as a destination on its website that the clothing retailer plans to use to court young consumers.

Company will initially produce original web series and content around events it sponsors, but also will use the entity to segue into TV, movies and music.

Programming will screen on the 77E-branded section of AE.com, on other sites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook, on video screens in its stores and through outside partners with whom it brokers distribution deals.

For example, the company’s first self-produced project, the webisodic comedy “It’s a Mall World,” bowed on AE.com, as well as on MTV during “The Real World: Sydney” on Aug. 1.

Project was helmed by “Heroes” thesp Milo Ventimiglia and stars Sam Huntington (“Superman Returns”). Adam Green, who wrote and directed the upcoming horror pic “Hatchet,” penned the 13 webisodes about mall employees.

Twelve of the webisodes air on MTV and American Eagle’s dot-com, but the finale will be shown on the retailer’s site only, Oct. 17.

Retailer has yet to release the number of viewers of the series in its first weeks, but said it is exceeding expectations, with visitors increasing 142% in the second frame since its bow.

American Eagle’s expanded move into branded entertainment is being driven by Kathy Savitt, exec VP and chief marketing officer of American Eagle Outfitters, who joined the company last year from Amazon.com.

Under her helm, the retailer set up shop at the Sundance Film Festival for the first time to showcase its Aerie brand and hosted a concert by 30 Seconds to Mars. In March, it hosted spring-break parties in Cancun and Acapulco that featured performances by Fergie and Ludacris. It also partnered with Jordan Levin’s Generate to produce a comedy competish to find the funniest college student.

Pittsburgh-based company’s eyeing entertainment as a way to connect with its target 15- to 25-year-old customer base and promote the discovery of new artists.

“It’s an audience that is a voracious consumer of television, music and movies,” Savitt said. “Content is so important to who they are and how they’re living their life. They’re so smart and discriminating. We need to make deposits into the cool jar.”

Entertainment unit is headed by Nate Morley, American Eagle Outfitters’ senior creative director, who most recently worked on spots for Old Navy and Target while at ad shops Deutsch and Peterson Milla Hooks, and produced a web series for Abercrombie & Fitch before that. Burke Morley, senior marketing manager of entertainment,also based in Pittsburgh,is on the entertainment team as well.

American Eagle is hardly the first brand to produce its own original entertainment, especially when it comes to web series. But the company’s the latest to devote considerable resources to buddy up to Hollywood and back nontraditional marketing methods.

“It’s a strategy to deepen the emotional connection with consumers to extend the relevance of American Eagle as a lifestyle brand,” Savitt said. “We want to be relevant, important and inspiring in other parts of our customers’ lives even when they’re not looking for clothing.”

Company’s been repped by United Talent Agency, which will continue to advise the retailer on which projects to produce, and will help broker deals with talent.

But deals are not limited to UTA clients. For example, Ventimiglia is repped by CAA, Green is at Endeavor, while Huntington is at Paradigm.

“American Eagle is in a great position to use its website and stores as platforms to reach a lucrative demo through entertainment,” said UTA board member Peter Benedek. “They’re being very smart.”

Exact details of upcoming projects have not yet been disclosed, but American Eagle plans to follow up “Mall World” with another web series in November. It’s also in production on a series of shorts for its Aerie brand. Its first film tie-in will bow over the holiday, and a music initiative will launch sometime next year.

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