Abercrombie & Fitch: losing control of one’s brand

6a00d8341c790b53ef0192aa2f4642970d-800wiI think that what happened with A&B last week is interesting in terms of company strategy and brand positioning (all things being relative, as we already know).

We’ve already seen:

  1. Brands that use UGC (User Generated Content).
  2. Individuals that rebel against logo changes.
  3. Various associations (spearheaded by GreenPeace) that challenge the policies of many companies.
  4. Calls to boycott for x-y-or-z reasons.

However, a single individual, external to the brand, who succeeds in interfering with brand positioning and in generating significant negative public opinion, is relatively new indeed.

Let’s review the facts.  It all began three weeks ago when the brand’s CEO came out with a statement explaining that his products would not be manufactured in “plus” sizes,  to insure that they could only be worn by thin and therefore “cool” people (yes, he linked the two adjectives.)

Such a stance coming from such a strong brand must be a PR move, first and foremost.

Abercrombie is not the first brand to forego “plus” sizes, but it is the first to use this positioning as a marketing claim.

The idea is of course that people will want to shop the brand so they can then boast that “they’re able to fit into Abercrombie & Fitch products”.   It’s a somewhat underhanded form of inspirational marketing.  However, the brand has been using this sort of tactic for ages, for instance with its renowned top-model wannabe salespeople.

Personally, I think that separating people by weight and equaling beauty with slimness is ridiculous, but that is another debate entirely (it’s not my role and it could take be lengthy).  However, the brand’s position has ruffled a few feathers.

A petition launched by some teenagers has been getting slight attention from the brand, but what is really of interest is this video:

The video exposes the brand’s questionable stance, and calls for people to donate the brand’s products to as many homeless people as possible.  This video is getting quite a bit of exposure (several millions hits in a few days, mentioned by numerous media and celebs).

Clearly, a brand worn by homeless people may no longer be the brand of choice for those who aspire to glamour.

So, the brand may be facing a potential communications crisis.

The shock factor and the controversy were most probably the initial goals of this positioning, where once again, those who can actually wear the brand’s clothes are in the spotlight.  Surely the brand had anticipated this crisis.

In fact, reactions like this blogger’s would almost seem to support the brand’s stance.  But “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is not necessarily true.

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I don’t believe for a second in the idea of a mass boycott of the brand and a total rejection of its values.  However, I do think that this debate could start to reflect negatively on those who continue to purchase the brand’s products, particularly if the “Fitchthehomeless” movement gains any real speed.

What was initially a communications crisis could become something much more widespread.

Provocation is a dangerous game; one can easily get burned.

gregfromparisAuteur: Grégory Pouy
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