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Why Athleta archived most of its Instagram account as it attempts a brand refresh to woo back customers

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Athleta is wiping its Instagram account in a bid to re-introduce itself to shoppers.

Similar to someone going through a breakup, the brand has archived its Instagram posts, launched brand new content, signaling the company’s new brand direction. As opposed to product-focused social media ads and marketing campaigns, the new direction brings Athleta to the 21st century with a video-led strategy, user generated content and more influencers, according to Julia Leach, Athleta’s recently appointed chief creative officer.

Athleta’s brand refresh comes at a notable time as parent company Gap and its portfolio of brands — Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta — is suffering a myriad of issues, including lagging sales, stiff competition from fast fashion retailers, and the departure of key leaders, including former Athleta CEO Mary Beth Laughteon. Per Barron’s, the former CEO stepped down in March following a sales slump. Since then, Athleta has hired former president of Alo Yoga, Chris Blakeslee, and Leach.

Under Leach’s new leadership, the brand direction is more focused on nature, travel and women’s empowerment.

There’s a sense of urgency to turn the brand position around and revamp how it presents itself to consumers, starting with social and digital, ahead of the holiday season. Those can be easier to tweak than retail locations and can help boost brand awareness to reach new audiences, per Leach. Aside from Instagram, the 25-year-old athletic brand is also revamping its website and retail locations.

“Let’s get really good at one thing first and then move, in terms of social strategy,” she said. “Let’s not run at everything 100 miles per hour. Let’s run at one thing where we know the customer is.”

From a strategic standpoint, an Instagram revamp can act as a user focus group, allowing marketers to test brand perception without spending ad dollars, said Tommy Henvey, co-founder and chief creative officer at Something Different, an ad agency.

“The reality is you can go out and test the waters there and see what people’s reaction is to changing something,”  he said. “And it’s not going to cost you $50 million dollars.” Athleta currently has 850,000 Instagram followers.

For now, Athleta isn’t spending more on its content creation. Instead, Leach is asking the apparel brand’s in-house social media team to do more with what’s available. There are also no current plans to pursue something similar on TikTok, although the brand has secured its handle and a presence via influencers. The brand has also been active on Threads, but as engagement on the Meta-owned platform has dropped off, efforts there may plateau soon “rather than distract ourselves,” Leach said. 

Over the weekend, Athleta went dark on its Instagram account, archiving all of its previous static photo posts and Reels from its 850,000 followers. Now, there are just three posts that read “Power of She.” Within the coming months, followers can expect to see more user-generated content, influencers and videos, per Leach. 

“I really wanted to hold the team’s hand and say, ‘It’s not that we’re not proud of what we’ve done before, but we need to signal change,’” she said. 

Two years ago, Italian fashion house Bottega Veneta made a similar move, deleting its Instagram account with 2.5 million followers, as well as its Twitter (now X). Only its Facebook page remains. It’s still unclear why the company cleansed its social media accounts, per W Magazine. In the past, celebrities have made a similar move to drum up buzz ahead of product launches or project announcements. 

“There are some brands that do that and do it to be a little provocative,” said Patti McConnell, co-founder and managing partner at Something Different ad agency. “It’s sometimes just to be wowed in a different way and alert their followers [or] help to shift their thinking a little bit.”

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