Abercrombie & Fitch: Good Marketing and Bad PR?

Posted on May 16th 2013

Abercrombie & Fitch: Good Marketing and Bad PR?

Actually, they’re pretty bad at marketing too…(But more on that later)

So everyone is up in arms over Abercrombie’s stance on sizing – particularly as it pertains to girls.

(In case you’ve been living under a rock – CEO Mike Jeffries recently came under fire for statements made long ago about not manufacturing clothes in larger sizes for women). Read More. 
 
Is Abercrombie doing anything wrong?

Fundamentally speaking, no. (I said FUNDAMENTALLY)

Good marketers know you have to stand for something. You can’t be all things to all people and still expect to build an iconic brand. Targeting is what sets you apart from the rest – a fact that holds especially true when it comes to fashion.

And branding isn’t just about whom to attract; it’s also about whom to repel.

Just ask Mike “the Situation”
(he was asked to stop wearing A&F apparel on MTV’s The Jersey Shore out of fear that the association worked against the A&F lifestyle).

So Abercrombie only wants the cool kids...

Just walk by an A&F store. You’d have to be blind, deaf, and dumb not to know it already.  
Ear-pulsing club beats and dim lighting. Larger than life posters of scantily clad, physically fit twenty-somethings. The choking aroma of signature fragrance. 

Shit’s intimidating! (Coming from a former uncool kid)

And who’s cool? All else held equal, it’s the most attractive kid with access to the most money (I.e., loaded parents).

Price has been an effective (and acceptable) form of exclusion for years.

Businesses in every industry imaginable have used price as a bar of access against less affluent consumers. No one ever takes offense.

But weight gets personal.

You just don’t talk about it. And for Abercrombie, maybe it’s that it seems to only apply to girls, which provides an added sting of chauvinism.

What we have here is a perfectly rational business choice communicated in a callous, way too transparent manner – add too crowd sourcing and voice amplification via social media.

What we have is a case for better PR.

When it comes to the human body, we possess unfair, illogical aspirations. It’s a reality made possible by years of an escalating notion that sex sells in advertising and Photoshop.

Abercrombie built a name for itself around the chase of physical perfection – and there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s a solid business model.

Mike Jeffries just should have been more diplomatic in his explanation.

And maybe we’d respect the brand’s stance more if it was even a fraction the “cool” it was more than a decade ago.

Pt. 2 - A brand in need of friends…
(I promised we’d get back to the Marketing part)


When I was home in February, I walked out of A&F with a pair of jeans for $9.00. Rewind 15 years and you’d see me out front of the same store BEGGING my mom to buy me the last $48.00 tee left in my size.

It took 17 consecutive months of declining same-store sales before Jeffries decided to establish a sales discount model.

 

At the turn of the Millennium you’d have been lucky to find a 10% mark down at the end of the season. Now, it’s reductions on top of redlines and cash rewards if you come back a week later.
 
Sales have slumped.
 
While the brand continues to expand internationally, kids here at home have moved on. Why?
 
A&F wants the cool kids, but the cool kids want something else.
 
They want to be new and now and cutting edge.
 
When it comes to fashion, cool kids buy on trend and Abercrombie is not trend.
 
It’s a lifestyle.
 
New colors, cuts and prints. With kids, the faster they change the better.
 
During its mid- to late-nineties heyday, A&F’s “lifestyle” look felt like a trend because it was fresh and new.
 
But year after year of the same blue-gray plaids and spaghetti strap tanks, popped polo collars, tattered denim, and year-round flip flops, and kids stopped paying attention.
 
A&F set out to be the next Ralph Lauren; an iconic look all its own. But with a primary target of impatient, self-righteous teens, it was never going to work.
 
The notion (and cache) of timelessness is lost on the young.

Teens don’t want to look the same year after year and they certainly don’t want to dress like their parents.

 

So never mind the controversy over size and resulting consumer “boycotts” that, thanks to social media, are shared with a false impression of a unified front.

Before long we’ll no doubt move on to hazing and rebuking a different brand for whom we used to admire.

No, it’s the refusal to evolve the A&F “lifestyle” that will sink this ship.
(Under the current business model, I give it no more than 5 years).

 

Daniel Stepanic

Daniel Stepanic

Self-proclaimed interactive marketing pundit & slave to the gym. Unintended techie. While my career has been focused on marketing B2B/professional services, my first love is retail. I find the interplay between marketing and psychology fascinating (and am not afraid to use it to my advantage). I look forward to contributing time to time, as thoughts/ideas drift in and out my head. I welcome your feedback. I am nostalgic yet focused on the future. I refuse to descend into mediocrity.
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Comments

David Mitchel
Posted on May 16th 2013 at 4:45PM

Good stuff Daniel!

The comment from the A&F CEO was made circa 2005 if I recall the details correctly. How that comment got brought up again and back to life in the current news cycle surprises me.

Here's your key quote:

"No, it’s the refusal to evolve the A&F “lifestyle” that will sink this ship.

(Under the current business model, I give it no more than 5 years). "

That would make it seem like the brand would be need of revitalization. If one is able to get major pricing discounts like that, it speaks volumes about the brand. If the brands was fully achieving its cool positioning, you wouldn't be able to get $9 jeans. There is always a price premium for cool.
 
I can perceive a need for brand revitalization. Brand revitalization is a subject I'm passionate about (see bottom links)
 
There may be a need to change the target market for the products, since the cool kids seem to be going in a different direction with apparel. That could involve changing pricing, store environment, apparel carried, etc.
 
It will be fun to see where they go over time.
 

 

Daniel Stepanic
Posted on May 16th 2013 at 4:58PM

Thanks for reading, Dave. And for the thoughts. I was just pondering this morning how crazy it is that the comments under fire were made so long ago as well! Appreciate the links out to former posts. Hillarious to see you discuss Old Spice's brand revamp from 3 years ago -- can't deny it has a flavor of the comical nonsense made popular in the last two years by brand frontman Isaiah Mustafa even back then. Great stuff, happy reading and happy to connect. :)