Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Abercrombie & Fitch; Good Marketing, 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).


  1. Cool never tries to be cool. And no one tries harder to be cool than Abercrombie.

    And no one has tried so desperately to make sure everyone knows they're trying to be cool than Mr. Jeffries. You never say you're trying to be cool! Dumbass.

    Also, as a business leader, his decisions are illogical. There's far more to marketing than just branding.

    Especially when your stores are located in Rust Belt suburban malls, it's probably not a good idea to shut out the patrons that lean to the fuller sizes. Even Michelle Obama can tell you that there's a lot of them out there. When you're looking to desperately expand your sales, you might wanna try expanding those waste-bands.

    Out-of-touch idiots.

    1. Couldn't have said it better myself, James (in fact, I didn't). :) And Abercrombie ISN'T just for cool kids. As you and I's store visits in 2000/2001 can attest, it was for those who STRIVE TO BE cool as well. Alas, all is far more effective when exercised with a little subtlety. Don't share your secrets, let alone boast about em. Jeffries is going to run A&F into the ground.