Thursday, May 9, 2013

Brutal Honesty From Abercrombie

 Abercrombie & Fitch is not for everyone.

As a marketer, I really respect this about their brand.  I absolutely love that they're fanatical about keeping a strict focus on their youthful target in order to preserve the strength of its brand, something that would certainly be compromised if old dudes like myself were comfortable walking the streets in Abercrombie gear.        

However, as a human being, I think it kind of sucks.  It has been a little more than a decade, but I can still remember being your average scrawny, awkward, high school kid.  I still remember shopping trips to Abercrombie, in search of clothes that come with cool points from my classmates, and feeling ignored by the employees.  I can still see the expression on the face of the prepped-out employee at the register as I checked out and they refused to make eye contact.

Strategically, Abercrombie is right to focus on a select few.  Their Busey-esque CEO Michael Jeffries hits the nail on the head when he says "those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either."

Still, it's impossible to deny the collateral damage that can result from Abercrombie & Fitch's execution of this strategy.  Since A&F's target audience is smack-dab in their most formative years, only offering up to a size 10 in women's pants is an extremely dangerous example to set for a demographic that naturally struggles with their body image, identities and self-worth.

It's interesting to hear a CEO candidly speak about excluding certain demographics, as opposed to the traditional framing of this brand picture, only in terms of who the target audience is.  But this is something of a tell by Jeffries.   

An admission that Abercrombie would prefer that the fat, the ugly and the uncool wear another brand of clothes is also testimony to what drives the brand; not superior product design, raw materials or construction, but perceived qualities about people who wear it.  It's an admission that the real value delivered by the Abercrombie brand is a mirage; dependent upon what one chooses to see, not what they actually can.

But it's easy for a self-assured adult recognize this; they're not a scrawny, awkward high school kid.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing.  Bonus cool points for checking out the 2006 Salon Magazine article by Benoit Denizet Lewis.  

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