A recent article on an American site Business Insider mused on the fact that the clothing label Abercrombie & Fitch does not stock clothing larger than a “Large” size for women. In the article the author referenced another interview with the CEO of Abercrombie, Mike Jeffries, from way back in 2006 in Salon Magazine. Here Jeffries states the following:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he says. “Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely."
Despite the fact that these comments were made 7 years ago, they have spawned a new anti A&F campaign under the twitter hashtag #FitchTheHomeless. The campaign was started by an LA based film maker and writer Greg Karber who reacted to the article by videoing himself going to a local Goodwill store, buying Abercrombie and Fitch donated clothes and then donating them to homeless people in LA and encouraging others to do the same to break the brand positioning. His video on YouTube has now had over 5.7m views. But is this a PR disaster or actually just very careful and well thought out brand management personified by the CEO?
Most of the media commentary about this centres on how terrible it is that A&F do not cater for larger sized women and that makes them exclusionist. Many have also turned on its policy of only hiring good-looking employees and its habit of having bare torso male models welcoming customers into its darkened, music blaring outlets.
You might be thinking this is nothing new and just one in a long line of CEO PR gaffs. Gerald Ratner famously wiped £500 million from the value of Ratners jewellers with one speech in 1991 with the line “People say, 'How can you sell this for such a low price?' I say, because it's total crap." Or Alain Levy, chief executive of the music company EMI, who after cutting the roster of artists on a music label they owned in Finland said it was because there were not that many people in the country "who could sing".
They were both classic examples of PR nightmares but in my opinion the comments from Mike Jeffries is actually a good example of excellent brand management. True brand management is about totally understanding both your product and your target audience. It’s about creating a passion in that audience and making them feel so part of your product that they become brand ambassadors.
For some products that mean’s that you might have to upset people outside of your chosen target, but if that’s what you have to do then that’s what you have to do. Abercrombie targets young, pretty, slim people and like it or not young, pretty and slim people do not want to be seen wearing the same clothes as old, ugly and fat people. You might not agree with their positioning but it’s what drives a multi-million dollar clothing empire. They successfully sell to their target market and those who want to be in it and statements such as those from Jeffries only reinforce that ability.
Tim Youngman is Director of Marketing for Archant www.about.me/timyoungman