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ABERCROMBIE AND FITCH – EXACERBATING ‘THE SITUATION’?



Following the upsetting (and enraging) scenes of the riots dominating our newspapers, programmes and bulletins this month, this Manchester agency was definitely ready for a lighter story to lift the mood. We welcomed the news that Abercrombie & Fitch has offered to pay Jersey Shore’s Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino not to wear its clothes with open arms and, once we’d finished giggling at the hilarity of it all, realised that Abercrombie & Fitch had executed a genius bit of blog-worthy PR.

 

A quarter of consumers would consider ditching a product if the celebrity endorsing it misbehaved. So it comes as no surprise that the constantly misbehaving stars of hedonistically brash MTV reality show, Jersey Shore, are not welcome brand ambassadors for the all-American clothing company. In a carefully-worded statement (good work, A&F PR people), the company referred to its association with The Situation as “contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to our fans.” Aside from being a brave – and brilliant – move that grabbed A&F some serious buzz and column inches, it raises the issue of reputation being central to brand success, highlighting how important it is to take steps to keep a marketing strategy and a brand’s perception on track.

 

In Abercrombie & Fitch’s case, it bagged the brand some impressive word-of-mouth marketing, too. Effectively banning The Situation from wearing its clothes has certainly got people talking, but it’s done wonders for reinforcing its brand values. Abercrombie & Fitch knows who it wants as its customers – attractive under 25 year olds who are set to be life’s winners. It also knows who it doesn’t want – pretty much everybody else. Ouch. It strips ‘exclusivity’ back to its original meaning, deliberately discounting huge sections of society to make itself even more desirable. Its execs have clearly worked out that appealing to the rich, athletic and good-looking elite will do more for the brand’s bottom line than welcoming Average Joe and turning said elite off.

 

And Abercrombie & Fitch’s strategy to turn off non-targeted customers is reflected in everything from its adverts to its store fit-outs. Why else are its boutiques lit with the dimmest lights possible, staffed by almost-models and pumping out obnoxiously loud music? To send a clear message to the overweight, over-25 (sob!) and generally over it shopper: this is not for you. Until now, this has remained (relatively) subliminal, but the move to publicise the ‘The Situation’ situation has thrust A&F’s narcissistic brand stance into the spotlight, making it all the more coveted. Clever. They’ve created the sartorial equivalent of the cool kids’ gang at school.

 

Abercrombie & Fitch is definitely not the first brand to attract unwanted advocates. British fashion house Burberry famously became the uniform of choice for UK chavs a decade or so ago, from which the brand is still trying to recover. It’s ethereal campaigns fronted by quintessentially English rose, Emma Watson, have gone some way to repairing the damage, but that print will continue to send a shudder down the spine of many a fashionista for years to come.

 

Said chavs have, much more recently, played a role in tarnishing the brands of Nike and Adidas, when swarms of them took to the streets during the riots. Both companies have experienced a damaging fall in brand perception as a result. I’m not sure that Nike and Adidas will be able to emulate Abercrombie & Fitch’s tactic and pull off a mass payment to the UK’s chavs, but I’m confident they’ll bounce back by reinforcing their positive association with credible sport and world-leading athletes.

 

Ultimately, the impact of Abercrombie & Fitch’s move will be clear only when the dust has settled. Its share price did take a momentary dip – upset Jersey Shore fans with their nose out of joint, perhaps? – but it’s certainly got us all talking about Abercrombie & Fitch across the pond. The story has generated an enormous amount of press on platforms as credible as BBC News 24 and as lighthearted as the celeb and gossip blogs subscribed to by A&F’s target audience: aspirational under-25s. Good work guys – this PR firm certainly approves.

 

 

Tagged with: Adidas, Burberry, Jersey Shore, Jessica Ennis, Manchester, Nike, PR, riots, The Situation