Skip to main content

How Hot Topic’s Brand Ambassador Program Drove Engagement During the Holiday Shopping Season Using Mavrck

How Hot Topic’s Brand Ambassador Program Drove Engagement During the Holiday Shopping Season Using Mavrck

About Hot Topic


It all started in 1988. A ton of teen retail accessory stores littered the malls, but there weren’t any cool, music-inspired accessory destinations for both guys and girls.

Enter Hot Topic.

As 1990 rolled around, Hot Topic wanted to add apparel to its music mix, so they brought in the ultimate music fan essential: band T-shirts.

Within a year, Hot Topic offered about 50 different band titles, along with rock-inspired clothing lines like Lip Service and Serious.

As it continued to expand, it discovered that their customers were also drawn to the underground cartoon, cult movie, and comic book scenes, so they brought the world of South Park, Care Bears, Superman, SpongeBob and tons of other pop icons right to them!

Today, Hot Topic offers band-related apparel and accessories, licensed merchandise, and fashion apparel and accessories, which you can find at more than 600 stores and online at More than 25 years later you can still feel the passion for music and pop culture in the stores, at HQ, and in the distribution centers.

The Challenge


It is no longer enough for brands to compete on products or services alone as today’s consumers have come to expect on-demand, personalized experiences at every brand-owned touchpoint. This shift, largely driven by Amazon, has flipped the traditional retail industry model on its head and, in turn, has created a new set of rules for today’s modern day retailers to play by.

However, not all retailers have been able to quickly pivot and adapt to the realities of this new, customer-centric, digital-first world, which has resulted in the systematic death of retail stores across the country. In 2019, retailers announced plans to close more than 9,300 stores, a 59 percent jump from 2018 and the highest number since the previous 8,000 store closures in 2017.1

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, up from the 662 locations reported in 2014.2 Moreover, Hot Topic has emerged as the top retail destination among Gen Z and millennials for “unique styles,” beating out second-place Nike.2

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 battle for consumers’ attention intensifies.


Consumers’ demand for personalization and convenience increases, placing more and more pressure on brands to deliver on-demand, elevated customer experiences at every touchpoint. The result is an exponential increase in the amount of content brands (and by extension, influencers) produce, bombarding consumers everywhere they look. On social media platforms, specifically, 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 (males and females, ages 18-24 years-old).

1) NBC News – More than 9,300 stores closed this year, up 63 percent from 2018, 2019
2) NY Times – Hot Topic is Still Hot, 2019

The Strategy


Hot Topics’ 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 social media platforms like TikTok, both of which have created cultures that not only celebrate imperfections, but leverage this unprecedented rawness and authenticity to fuel one-to-one connection and build community.

With this insight, coupled with the understanding that the success of Hot Topic has been largely built on a deep understanding of consumers and a 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 all of the HT Fanatics.

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 both unexpected and unique to each individual within its ambassador community.


Hot Topic further brought the idea to life by redefining personalization in the context of their brand ambassadors: prompting ambassadors to share a list of their favorite Hot Topic products to share with their assigned Secret Santa, giving all ambassadors a unique, surprise and delight experience.

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.

Activating the HT Fanatics Community

The HT Fanatics aren’t your average brand ambassadors.

HT Fanatics are well-versed in the latest binge-worthy shows, anime, up-and-coming band 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 challenges within the retail landscape, and the additional difficulties that come with activating influencers during the holiday season, Hot Topics 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 Mavrck’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 with 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, with a goal of building hype and driving 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

Take a deeper dive into the power of the Mavrck platform

Book a demo


Influencers Activated


Pieces of Influencer Content Generated


Impressions on Influencer Posts


Average Engagement Rate (+47% industry benchmark)


Average Cost Per Engagement (-38% industry benchmark)