Within three years of its 2013 debut, Hawkers sunglasses had grown from a new, unfamiliar brand to a market leader, earning $78 million in income due in large part to the company’s savvy social media promotion strategy.
Considering the founders had originally planned to launch a completely different business, Hawkers’ trajectory in the past decade has been particularly impressive. While trying to fund a new Craigslist-like Spanish language classified ad website, the founders stumbled upon a unique pair of sunglasses that was being offered in the U.S. — and decided to start selling the brand in Spain to support the site’s launch.
After seeing how well the sunglasses sold, they created their own product line in 2013. Within Hawkers’ first few years, they raised $56 million to help grow the business from interested investors like Alejandro Betancourt Lopez, the founder of asset management enterprise O’Hara
Administration and ride-share service provider Auro Travel, who currently serves as Hawkers’ president .
“I fell in love with the model,” Betancourt says. “They were taking all these risks when they started Hawkers and trying many things. They discovered that you don’t need sizes for sunglasses — and at the right price, you would take the risk, as a customer, and say, ‘For $20, I will try this because it looks cool, and I’ll order it online.’”
Tapping Into a New Community
By offering a high-quality product — featuring elements like a lightweight, impact-resistant polycarbonate frame and polarized lenses that provide glare reduction and UV protection — Hawkers’ founders created a strong consumer value proposition.
To ensure potential customers knew about it, Alejandro Betancourt Lopez helped Hawkers establish an innovative social media-based marketing campaign that helped push people to its website, where they could purchase the company’s sunglasses. Within two years of its launch, approximately 90% of its sales came from the Hawkers site, according to a 2016 TechCrunch article.
While Facebook, at the time, was a firmly established social media site in the U.S., it was still gaining popularity in Europe — making the social media site a cost-effective promotional option, according to Betancourt.
“[The Hawkers founders] discovered the conversion rate was crazy,” he says. “They became one of the largest and fastest-growing sunglasses brands in the world. It was extremely inexpensive to get impressions on digital media; you’d spend $100 on Facebook and get $300 in revenue.”
The content Hawkers posted also likely contributed to its success. The company’s social media messaging suggested it was spearheading a type of grassroots retail uprising, complete with a #HawkersRevolution hashtag. The overall theme echoed a major goal the company outlined in a 2015 Kickstarter campaign, launched to fund further growth — its “conviction that the eyewear industry is deeply unfair,” due to a lack of competition that had driven prices up to a seemingly inequitable level.
Hawkers’ Kickstarter message didn’t overtly emphasize an intent to gain new customers or sales; it instead said the company was looking for “more allies to conquer the whole world” — an inclusive stance that may have especially resonated with younger consumers who support industry disruption and favor smaller businesses over large corporations. A 2022 Edelman survey found 73% of Generation Z members base purchasing decisions on their personal beliefs and values.
Strengthening Social Media Endeavors
Although Facebook provided ample access to potential customers in Hawkers’ early days of operation, the company, like other businesses, needed to adjust its social media approach later on to accommodate changing consumer preferences.
“Once everybody was using Facebook, everybody started using an army of micro-influencers,” Alejandro Betancourt Lopez says. “Now the market’s shifting more into celebrities. It’s a constantly evolving market that you need to test and test to see where the conversion rates are more effective.”
Other social media applications, Betancourt says, can currently potentially provide notable visibility, in addition to some other key advantages. Marketing products on emerging outlets can often cost less than sponsoring a campaign on a platform with a larger user base, and with fewer companies using the social media venue for promotion, there can be less competition for views.
Some options’ structure can also make them a particularly beneficial tool. Social media applications that skew heavily toward users’ niche interest areas, for instance, such as Pinterest — where companies can create a business account and obtain access to pins that use meta-tags to increase the repinning rate — and Reddit — which offers user-friendly ad services — can serve as an effective, efficient way to connect with consumers who may be interested in your products, according to Betancourt .
Utilizing a variety of social media sites has helped Hawkers gain widespread recognition as a respected sunglasses provider over the past decade, propelling the company into multiple markets. By 2016, it was selling items in more than 50 countries and had billed a total of more than 100,000,000 euros (approximately $108,871,122).
The company’s promotional efforts have also been recognized by several social media providers. According to Betancourt, Facebook named Hawkers as the company with the best advertising performance in Europe, Africa, and beyond; the brand has also set organic topic trending-related records on Twitter and was one of the first companies selected to launch a campaign on Instagram’s network.
Being able to have a digital presence, Betancourt says, has radically changed how products are marketed. Today, social media platforms present an unparalleled opportunity to reach a highly targeted audience — while simultaneously gathering valuable data about consumer behavior that can help shape companies’ future business decisions.
“When you talk to mainstream old-school advertising people, they tell you, ‘We don’t need to see the conversion rates because you can see the lifetime value of the customer at the end; it’s all about brand awareness,’” he says. “I’m a strong believer that branding strategies are key elements because they make it easier to get a conversion when you launch a campaign — and sales — but it’s really hard to get it right all the time. In today’s world, the way to understand how your conversions are working is to really measure them.”