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Customer Case Studies

Hot Topic

How Hot Topic’s brand ambassador program drove engagement during the holiday shopping season using Later.

Woman wears skull dress with matching stuffed skull toy next to Hot Topic logo
Woman wears skull dress with matching stuffed skull toy next to Hot Topic logo

At a Glance

  • 104

    Influencers Activated

  • 232

    Influencer Generated Content

  • 904.5K


  • 10.7%

    Avg Engagement Rate

  • $0.08

    Avg Cost per Engagement

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The Objective

Holiday season digital innovation

Hot Topic offers band-related apparel and accessories, licensed merchandise, and fashion apparel and accessories at more than 600 stores and online at

Not all retailers have been able to quickly pivot and adapt to the realities of a new, customer-centric, digital-first world. Despite this world of decreasing mall traffic and increasing store vacancies, Hot Topic has defied the odds and has sustained its brick-and-mortar presence, operating a total of 670 stores across the U.S. and Canada.

However, even for retailers like Hot Topic, who have been largely successful in adopting digital-first, customer-centric strategies, new challenges arise when the holiday shopping season hits.

The Solution

Raising awareness with ambassadors

Consumers’ demand for personalization and convenience is always increasing, placing more and more pressure on brands to deliver on-demand, elevated customer experiences at every touchpoint. The result is an exponential increase in brand and influencer content, bombarding consumers everywhere they look. On social media platforms, this has led to an overcrowded and noisy landscape, making it difficult for retailers to reach consumers and capture market share.

With the holiday season around the corner, Hot Topic wanted to find a unique way to activate its ambassador community to rise above the noise and position the brand as the destination for consumers’ holiday shopping needs, especially among its target audience, 18 to 24-year-olds.

Creator with red hair poses in black patterned hot topic dress
Creator in graphic tee shares Instagram Story sponsored by Hot Topic
Creator with black dress from hot topic and elf ears poses in bedroom
Instagram post by @kroftkat, Instagram story by @xhanelstyle and Instagram reel by @pvper.doll

Leveraging Personalization for Connection

Hot Topic’s influencer strategy was born from the insight that among their core consumers, social media is used for connection – not perception.

Among Gen-Z and younger millennials, specifically, a counterculture around perfection on social media has emerged. This has become evident with the rise of “finstas” and TikTok, which have created cultures that celebrate imperfections and leverage authenticity to fuel one-to-one connections and build community.

With this insight, coupled with a deep understanding of Hot Topic’s consumers and unique product mix, the brand brought this to the influencer level to facilitate its first-ever virtual gift exchange – an ambassador-wide Secret Santa, open to the HT Fanatics brand ambassador community.

The Hot Topic Secret Santa campaign laddered up to the brand’s three main brand objectives: to increase market share, positive brand perception and purchase intent.

Within this campaign strategy, centered around influencers’ unique preferences, Hot Topic sought to facilitate a one-to-one connection during the holiday season in a way that was unexpected and unique to each individual within its ambassador community.

Later Influence™

Turn influencer marketing into your #1 revenue generator.

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Hot Topic further brought the idea to life by prompting ambassadors to share a list of their favorite Hot Topic products to share with their assigned Secret Santa.

Selfie from creator with green hair, white tank top and bat tattoo on clavicle
Instagram story from creator who is excited to open a package from Hot Topic
Red haired creator poses with sailor hat, yellow turtleneck, and pink pin from Hot Topic
Instagram posts by @horrorhailey, @lex0rcist and @hilexyrae

Activating the HT Fanatics Community

The HT Fanatics aren’t your average brand ambassadors. They are well-versed in the latest binge-worthy shows, anime, up-and-coming bands or style trends before they are a “thing.” Above all – HT Fanatics are die-hard fans of the brand and aren’t afraid to show it.

Despite the current retail landscape and the additional difficulties that come with activating influencers during the holiday season, Hot Topic saw a unique opportunity to tap into the genuine and authentic connection and passion within its well-established, tightly-knit HT Fanatics community.

By activating this community, Hot Topic was able to not only form a deeper connection with its ambassadors but also with its consumers, which allowed the brand to remain top-of-mind during the noisy holiday season.

#HTFSecretSanta Creative Brief & Incentives

Hot Topic reached out to all 332 HT Fanatics to participate in the campaign. Once ambassadors confirmed participation, Hot Topic leveraged Later’s survey capabilities to have ambassadors send their Secret Santa wish list – complete with Hot Topic products.

The brand then connected the 124 influencers based on mutual styles and preferences to facilitate a deeper connection within the community. Next, each ambassador was notified of the name and wish list of the individual they were shopping for. Ambassadors were sent $50 Hot Topic gift cards to purchase the gifts and $20 Visa gift cards to cover wrapping and shipping costs.

Once ambassadors shipped their gifts, they were sent campaign posting instructions, which included:

  • 1 Instagram Story of the gift still wrapped, to build hype and drive followers to the in-feed post.
  • 1 In-Feed Instagram Post to showcase the unwrapped gift, using the caption to promote Hot Topic as the best place to buy gifts and to thank their Secret Santa.
  • For both posts, influencers were instructed to use the following: #SponsoredbyHT #HTFSecretSanta and tag @hottopic.
Selfie from creator with sparkly mickey mouse ears
Creator poses outside stone wall with door wearing a red skirt from Hot Topic
Red haired creator poses in dinosaur sweater from Hot Topic

The Results

Holiday Season Success

Creator with rainbow hair and animal crossing shirt posing next to key campaign stats


Influencers Activated


Influencer Generated Content




Avg Engagement Rate


Avg Cost per Engagement

Key campaign stats; Still of Instagram Post by @kammiepomeranian for #HTsecretsanta

The #HTFSecretSanta campaign was a resounding achievement, leading to the following results:

  • 104 influencers activated and 232 pieces of influencer-generated content created;
  • 904.5K impressions on influencer posts;
  • A 10.7% average engagement rate - a 47% improvement compared to industry benchmarks; and
  • A $0.08 average cost per engagement, 38% less than the industry benchmark.


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