For a supposed style icon, Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t showing style in how it handles its image.
Two years ago, I ripped A&F for a not-so-subtle blunder when they tried to ‘bribe’ the lowbrow JerseyShores reality TV show. They indiscreetly slammed down a big money offer when Mike ‘The Situation’ proclaimed his love of the brand. Clearly, a non Blue Blood sporting more muscles than IQ points is not an ideal unpaid spokesperson for A&F’s desired image [sex appeal for people who were raised well informed, world aware, upper class]. But few blue bloods even watched Jersey Shores, so a more discreet approach may have been called for. The not-so-subtle payoff attempt was blasted over the airwaves, catching more media than the show itself- media that caught the attention of A&F’s actual longstanding customers.
This week, another blunder. The current CEO prefers that Plus-size & uncool folk not wear the brand. Again broadcast media (Ellen) is ripping the brand, and social media too (eg Reddit). It makes wearing A&F brand less than PC ie somewhat akin to wearing fur. Do longstanding brand fans love the brand THAT much, to take heat for just wearing it, for no fault of their own?
H&M is offering Plus sizes, so is American Eagle. Surely, companies such as Lululemon must face many of these same issues: quietly preferring that only folks of a certain social class, athletic build or size proportions, don their gear as brand ambassadors. How do they go about it? Certainly with more subtlety than A&F eg can Abercrombie and Fitch answer why they offer XL and XXL sizes for Men, but not for Women?
This is not good. The Abercrombie & Fitch brand, painstakingly built to iconic status over decades, is being quickly devalued and NOT by ‘uncool’ people wearing it, but by management mishandling that draws even more attention to those uncool people and shifts the brand image from ‘sexy successful’ to ‘elitist bigot’.
As I said last time, leading a style icon requires style, sensitivity, subtlety. Does this CEO have that style?
Badly done. Poorly perceived. And it’ll cost the brand- again.
In an age of viral, global media, a brand can go from revered icon to social pariah very quickly (BP anyone?)
At least The PR agency is being kept busy. Fire up that ‘Bull In A China Shop’ scenario!
image attributed to xomal11, Creative Commons