CASE STUDY: How TikTok helped Princess Polly become one of Gen Z's favorite fashion brands in 2020

  • Princess Polly is an Australian fast-fashion brand popular among Gen-Z and millennial consumers, including TikTok stars like the D’Amelio sisters and Addison Rae Easterling.
  • In 2020, the brand surged in popularity, partly due to its influencer strategy and virality on TikTok.
  • Insider created a case study of the brand and an inside look into its army of influencers.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In 2020, Princess Polly —  an Australian fast-fashion boutique known for its bodycon dresses, crop tops, and trendy Y2K styles — became unavoidable on the internet. 

Princess Polly shot ahead of fast-fashion competitors like Fashion Nova and Forever 21 to become one of the top 10 favorite shopping websites for US teens, according to Piper Sandler’s semi-annual “Taking Stock With Teens” survey.

Princess Polly ranked No. 8 in Piper Sandler’s spring 2020 survey and remained in the top 10 for the fall, only trailing behind heavyweights like Amazon, Nike, and Shein. 

But like many fast-fashion brands, Princess Polly’s clothing and styles are not too different from those of its competitors. So what sent Princess Polly skyrocketing to the top in 2020?

In part, it was being in the right place at the right time by joining TikTok in October 2019. And it’s also thanks to the robust army of influencers that Princess Polly has been building over the last couple of years. 

From the start, Princess Polly and TikTok had something in common: a younger audience.

“They are really a youth-focused fashion brand and that plays in really nicely,” said Elisa Kelsall, head of partnerships for TikTok’s global business solutions team in Australia.

The brand also benefitted from the rise of TikTok “try-on hauls,” a short (60 seconds or less), thumb-stopping take on a form that had been popularized on YouTube.

Here are some key stats that illustrate Princess Polly’s rapid rise:

  • The #princesspolly hashtag has 104 million views on TikTok and the brand itself has over 220,000 followers. 
  • Princess Polly had about 138 active TikTok influencers collaborating with the brand on paid content in 2020, according to data provided by Traackr, a data-driven influencer marketing platform. And these influencers were estimated to have driven about 2.4 million engagements.
  • Between 2019 and 2020, Princess Polly had a 1,271% increase in active influencers and a 1,475% increase in the number of posts on TikTok, according to Traackr’s data.
  • The brand also jumped into the top 10 fashion apparel brands named by Tribe Dynamics, an influencer-marketing platform. In 2019, Tribe Dynamics ranked the brand at No. 18. And in 2018, it ranked at No. 56.

Princess Polly has teams in both Australia and in LA (the brand launched its US market in 2019). Its influencer-marketing team, housed under the brand’s public relations arm, is tasked with scouting new influencer talent. 

With a large community of influencers posting about the brand, showing off the latest styles, and sharing discount codes, Princess Polly has put its name on the radar of millions of Gen-Z and millennial customers and driven traffic back to its e-commerce site.

Through its efforts, Princess Polly has become “synonymous” with influencers, said Demi Diamandis, an influencer with over 50,000 TikTok followers and 10,000 on Instagram. Diamandis has promoted the brand in exchange for clothing.

And beyond influencers, Princess Polly has also found success through paid ads on TikTok, multiple sources said.

Inside the brand’s influencer strategy

Princess Polly wants to reach the everyday consumer, the “girl next door.”

Instead of partnering with mega influencers, the brand has shifted toward hiring emerging creators that Gen-Z consumers might be better able to relate to. 

That means working with “micro” influencers with under 100,000 followers on a platform, and “mid-tier” influencers with under 500,000 followers. 

For instance, Carolina Freixa, a TikTok fashion influencer with about 316,000 followers, has partnered with Princess Polly in exchange for clothing multiple times since first working with the brand in spring 2020. It was her first brand partnership as an influencer and ultimately a “huge deal” for her, she told Insider. 

Freixa posts try-on hauls and tags Princess Polly’s TikTok account, including her customized discount code in the caption.

And Diamandis, a micro influencer, works with the brand primarily on Instagram but also posts TikTok content sharing her discount code and gifted looks.

Because of the way TikTok’s algorithm works, influencers with smaller follower counts can go viral in a way that might be more difficult on a platform like Instagram. One of Freixa’s most recent Princess Polly videos, for example, has over 400,000 views on TikTok. And other videos she posts sometimes rack up millions of views. 

So for Princess Polly, working with smaller creators not only allows them to work with more “relatable” influencers, it also offers the chance to reach millions of new customers at a lower cost. 

There are exceptions to its micro influencer strategy, however.

In 2020, the brand ran a campaign with YouTube star Emma Chamberlain (who has nearly 10 million subscribers), which was one of its biggest partnerships to date and required a much larger budget.

Princess Polly uses a few different types of partnerships

Princess Polly generally works with influencers in three ways: 

  • Gifting influencers hundreds of dollars worth of clothing in exchange for posts (influencers are able to choose the styles they’d like to promote)
  • Using affiliate links or codes that allow influencers to earn a commission (Princess Polly uses Rakuten)
  • Paying creators a flat fee for sponsored content 

Becca Bahrke, the senior director of talent at management firm Socialyte, told Insider that her company had been working with Princess Polly for about two years. While Socialyte shies away from any gifted collaborations for its own talent (who range from micro to mega influencers), Bahrke said the practice is still very common.

“I think there’s enough people in the market that will always accept gifting,” Bahrke said. “Gifting will never die.”

And there are good reasons that some fashion influencers might do a gifting deal.

“I can’t really afford to buy all the clothes that I use in a TikTok, so gifting really helped me create the videos and stay up to date on the fashion trends and the video trends,” Freixa said. “Because otherwise, I don’t think I would be able to keep up with everything.”

Diamandis described gifting as a “give and take” — a way for her to create more content and build brand relationships as she grows her audience. 

Freixa and Diamandis both said that they anticipate, over time, that their partnerships with Princess Polly will evolve and incorporate a pay-per-post structure. But for now, the two part-time influencers are content with the established partnership.

Their view shows why Princess Polly has been able to build up such a large roster of TikTok influencers willing to promote their clothes in exchange for free products.

How Princess Polly managed to make TikTok (almost) shoppable

One major downside for fashion brands on TikTok right now is that the platform doesn’t have the ability to “swipe up” or include links, like Instagram or YouTube.

Instead, creators (and brands) rely on the one shot they have: the link in bio. 

Princess Polly keeps its e-commerce site in the bio of its TikTok page. If the user clicks on that link, it takes them to a website that has a spread of embedded TikTok videos. When the user clicks on a video, a pop-up appears (powered by the company Vop) that shows both the TikTok and a shopping link for items the influencer is wearing in it.

It’s convoluted but approximates a shoppable TikTok feed.

Princess Polly also uses codes to try and gauge marketing performance and drive people to its website.

Influencers often include a customized discount code in the caption of their post (whether that’s on TikTok, Instagram, or YouTube). Typically, this will be between 10% and 20% off. 

The code allows Princess Polly to measure the performance of an influencer’s content in some fashion, though it’s not as direct as having a link. And the discount code is not always an affiliate code for the influencers (which would allow them to earn a commission on any sales made with their code).

The brand deploys these codes in its own posts and paid ads on TikTok, as well.

Princess Polly uses native advertising on TikTok (which appears on the For You Page) that “looks and feels like TikTok content,” Kelsall said.

“The consumers are really open and receptive to those ads,” Kelsall added.

TikTok identified Princess Polly as an “exceptional” brand in the fashion space because of its native advertising and presence on the platform.

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