Thursday, June 6, 2013

OMG! Abercrombie SO does not care about justice for fat kids. LOL!


Most of the industrialized world has recently been shocked!, furious! and disgusted! with Abercrombie’s CEO, Mike Jeffries.  Jeffries started as CEO in 2008 and the general consensus seems to be that he’s a control freak, a recluse and basically just a dick.  No big news there.  He also looks really creepy, with a Botoxed, statutory-rape-casual kind of style.  Again, not particularly shocking for a company specializing in selling g-strings to ‘tweens, manning its store entrances with young, hairless six pack ab models and whose advertising is all unabashedly child porn-esque.  There’s been some low-level grumbling about all of this over the years.  People got a little bent out of shape when Jeffries said that “people said we were cynical, that we were sexualizing little girls. But you know what? I still think those are cute underwear for little girls. And I think anybody who gets on a bandwagon about thongs for little girls is crazy. Just crazy!”  But it all really blew up more recently when Jeffries, talking about Abercrombie’s target customers, said this:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids…. 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.” 

And this:

“We hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don't market to anyone other than that.”

No-one could fathom, it seemed, that a company in this enlightened day and age would actually purposefully snub a whole slice of the population. collected 68,000 signatures on a petition demanding that “that Mike Jeffries issue a formal apology and Abercrombie start to embrace and make products for all body types.”  The Women and Girls Foundation sent a delegation of girls to Abercrombie’s headquarters in Ohio, who met with (and were later completely and profoundly ignored by) Abercrombie’s top management.  The media was outraged at the injustice of it all.  The blogosphere went nuts.  Coverage of Abercrombie’s transgressions was ubiquitous.

Two things struck me about this epic controversy.  First, Jeffries’ “scandalous” statements, while blunter than how a CEO is supposed to speak in mixed company, were hardly distinguishable from how Abercrombie has been describing its business for years to its investors.  And second, the protests and petitions and media coverage and outrage that followed Mike Jeffries’ statements did more to bolster the image Abercrombie has been trying to nurture than just about anything Abercrombie could have done on its own.

Given a little more time to polish and wordsmith, here’s how Abercrombie describes its business in its annual report filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission:

The bread and butter of the brand is Abercrombie & Fitch:

“Rooted in East Coast traditions and Ivy League heritage, Abercrombie & Fitch is the essence of privilege and casual luxury. The Adirondacks supply a clean inspiration to this preppy, youthful All-American lifestyle. A combination of classic and sexy creates a charged atmosphere that is confident and just a bit provocative. Idolized and respected, Abercrombie & Fitch is timeless and always cool.”

For the younger market, there’s Abercrombie Kids: 

Same idea, except with a focus on the “privilege and prestigious East Coast prep schools” instead of “Ivy League heritage.”  “Abercrombie kids aspire to be like their older sibling, Abercrombie & Fitch. The perfect combination of maturity and mischief, abercrombie kids are the signature of All-American cool.”

For West Coast wannabes, there’s Hollister:

“the fantasy of Southern California. It’s all about hot lifeguards and beautiful beaches. Young and fun, with a sense of humor, Hollister never takes itself too seriously. Hollister’s laidback lifestyle and All-American image is timeless and effortlessly cool. Hollister brings Southern California to the world.”

And then, of course, getting back to the ‘tween g-strings, there’s Gilly Hicks:

“the cheeky cousin of Abercrombie & Fitch. Inspired by the free spirit of Sydney, Australia, Gilly Hicks makes the hottest Push ‘Em Up bras and the cutest Down Undies for young, naturally beautiful, confident girls. Carefree and undeniably pretty, Gilly Hicks is the All-American brand with a Sydney sensibility.” 

Mike Jeffries’ statement that “a lot of people don't belong [in our clothes], and they can't belong,” is just the flip side of the same vacuous marketing gibberish used in the Company’s annual reports.  

Abercrombie says that its marketing strategy “emphasizes the senses to reinforce the aspirational lifestyle represented by each brand.”  No different than any mid-market mainstream fashion company.  The physical thing being sold is just low-quality generic-looking junk.  What’s really being sold is an image.  The word is sprinkled throughout all of Abercrombie’s annual reports: “aspirational,” “aspirational,” “aspirational.”   Any protester who is offended by Jeffries saying that some people just “can’t belong” has already drank the Kool-Aid and lost the battle.  If you think it’s true, you’ve bought the Abercrombie hype.  It’s not that Abercrombie sells to kids that actually are “confident,” “effortlessly cool” and “young [and] naturally beautiful.”  It sells to every awkward kid within 100 miles of a shopping mall, every zitty dufus who wants to be all those things.  Everyone!

When Abercrombie officers and shareholders read about all the protests and petitions and media coverage, they must be beside themselves with joy.  For a company whose entire business model is dependent on creating an air of exclusivity, what better brand reinforcement could there possibly be than a loud chorus of people demanding that they be more inclusive?  Every demand that Abercrombie change its ways, every angry letter, every ranting blog and every store occupation is an affirmation that Abercrombie has the nation’s attention and a marketing strategy that couldn’t be working better.

Mike Jeffries is creepy and the Abercrombie ads are gross and sleazy.  But Abercrombie is doing what companies do – trying to get attention and making money.  And those who are screaming the loudest against it are doing the most to keep the aspirational image alive. 
(After leafing through all the pop-culture fury, here’s what Abercrombie glances at with a smile)

1 comment:

Michael said...

I'm sure you've seen this already: Abercrombie & Fitch Gets a Brand Readjustment #FitchTheHomeless