Monday, 20 May 2013

#Fitchthehomeless - a lesson in brand management by Abercrombie & Fitch

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

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Guinness – a lesson in the changing face of marketing

A couple of weeks ago I attended a conference in Dublin with many from the Irish newspaper industry. One of the presentations from an Irish digital marketing agency called Cybercom who has a range of very well known brands as clients one being that most Irish of brands Guinness.

Guinness of course is famous for its advertising and has created some of the most iconic television campaigns over the last 20 years. From the Snail Race to the Swimmer to the multi-award winning Surfer, Guinness has made a name for pushing the boundaries of how it markets its single brand.

Guinness has constantly had to evolve its advertising and walking round the Storehouse in Dublin you can see the history of those campaigns. In the 1930’s when the print ads were the classic “My Goodness, My Guinness”, advertising was simply telling individuals what a product was, why you should buy it and where you can get it from. 

Those fundamentals have not changed but Guinness believes that successful brands are now marketing with people rather than to people. Brands must realise that people are more than consumers who purchase their goods and that they are now using and creating content, rating reviews, having multiple interest streams and are members of different communities. In doing so brands and companies must not interrupt people from what they are interested in, but somehow become what people are interested in.

Of course that is not easy in any way shape or form and is a lot easier if you are a well loved beer than, for example, a maker of screws. However the principle of moving from thinking about consumers just as people who buy stuff, to thinking about consumers as individual human beings, is a big mindset change for many.

Guinness also believe that companies now have to accept that consumers have changed and want to interact with each other and brands on 4 different types of screens. Also digital is the new operating system of the world and a modern marketers job is to understand the technology and how these channels are used to communicate with each other and brands.

To react to that Guinness has invested heavily in digital advertising and social media. Working with Cybercom they created “Insights from Inside the Ireland Camp” which is a Guinness rugby supporters Ireland community to which players delivered regular updates and value adding content.  This content was then shared across multiple distribution channels including, an iPhone app, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

Cybercom, through its work with Guinness and others, have found that you may be able to speak to someone via Twitter but they are also influenced by people in other environments such as Facebook and even print and that conversation is now in a constant state of flux. Your brand should be part of the conversation but you cannot force your way into the conversation which means that you have to spend time to understand what drives and motivates your consumers.

Conferences are very good at giving you time to think and learn from others. In this case it is clear that it helps if you are company as big as Guinness with its large marketing budget. However many of the lessons that Guinness has learnt, not just in recent years, but across 9 decades of pushing the marketing envelope are applicable to all. 

Tim Youngman is director of marketing for Archant