Laura Colton / Social Media & Content Marketing
Back in the early 2000s, Abercrombie & Fitch was at the height of its popularity. Everything from the scantily clad models to the very distinct aroma wafting throughout the store screamed “cool”.
At the time, it was almost impossible to walk through the halls without spotting the stitched moose logo proudly displayed on someone’s chest like a badge of honor.
Just about everyone wanted to show off their latest printed T-shirts and cargo pants with the A&F logo prominently shown off.
Fast-forward to 2016 and long gone are the days when walking around as a glorified billboard is seen as trendy or fashion forward.
These days, the millennial generation gravitates towards brands that pay attention to their specific needs, does social good in the world, provides a unique experience, and offers enticing incentives.
When sales plummeted a few years back, A&F learned the hard way that basing an entire marketing strategy around a fantasy that encourages only cool, attractive clones to buy their clones is a somewhat problematic message to promote in our era of diversity and acceptance.
As of late, Abercrombie & Fitch has struggled to remain relevant in the sea of high street fashion brands out there that offer clothes for a fraction of the cost.
In an effort to win back the hearts of millennial consumers, A&F must first address its mistakes in order to revamp its persona.
A Good Reputation Goes A Long Way
“Character is much easier kept than recovered.” – Thomas Paine
Back in its heyday, A&F wasn’t exactly known for producing super high-scale, sophisticated clothing. It more or less relied on its sexualized ads of beautiful half-naked people and its notable logo to sell clothes.
Sex sells, it’s true. But relying on six packs and size 0 figures to sell clothes today is something of an uphill battle. Over the years, Abercrombie’s heavy reliance on a sexualized marketing strategy has earned the company somewhat of a seedy reputation.
It had always been an unspoken rule that to work at Abercrombie you had to be attractive, young, and in-shape. Abercrombie created a persona where there was no room for XL or XXL sizes for curvier women who didn’t fit a certain mold.
Abercrombie was the equivalent of the ‘cool’ kid who mocked anyone who was different and stood out. The problem with a cool brand is that it is inherently exclusive. It thrives off of leaving people out and making people feel inferior.
The reputation Abercrombie had built for itself was one that was superficial and judgmental. In 2013, a past interview with Salon magazine revealed that Abercrombie’s CEO Mike Jeffries wanted only thin, beautiful people to wear his company’s clothes.
“That’s why 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. … 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. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
Unsurprisingly, people were angry and insulted by the comments. The brand’s persona took a negative hit and the CEO later stepped down.
The company’s greatest mistake in marketing itself to a young demographic has largely been its inability to think long-term. Abercrombie lost sight of the customer’s wants and needs, and failed to think of how its reputation could/would negatively impact the company.
Consumers want to buy from brands that stand for something. Up until this point, A&F has lacked any sort of depth outside of its sex appeal. Beyond its logo, the brand has had no differentiators setting itself apart from the range of more affordable clothing brands out there.
At the end of the day, a brand’s reputation is everything… Especially when it comes to selling an image. Brands with a strong reputation enjoy higher returns, a large number of loyal customers, and a competitive advantage in the marketplace. Brands that are consistently in the limelight facing criticism and viral backlash are in danger of losing consumers and as a result, sales.
Every company is vulnerable to the occasional PR debacle, but when it becomes a constant recurrence, people are going to take notice. In other words, not all publicity is good publicity.
These days, offending a segment in the market once may be unavoidable (especially in our digital-age), but insulting too many segments of the market is a quick ticket for people to come together and rally against your brand.
In an effort to rebrand itself, the company has made strides to distance itself from its former objectifying ways. Abercrombie has included a larger array or clothing sizes, gotten rid of the sexually exploitive ad campaigns, and agreed to stop calling their employees “models” in favor of the term “brand representatives.”
The question remains on whether these recent strategic moves are enough to make up for years of promoting unattainable beauty standards and excluding people.
Listen Up Everyone
Contrary to popular opinion, millennials do not make purchasing decisions blindly. This is a generation of consumers that are armed with technology and social media, and they aren’t afraid to use it.
A huge contributing factor to Abercrombie & Fitch’s rise and fall in sales over the years has been a direct result of multiple social media tirades against the company.
While social media can help build a business from the ground up, it can just as quickly tear a company down.
A successful brand not only understands what best attracts their customer and most appeals to their lifestyle, but also has the ability to look ahead and forecast potential trends and behaviors.
Brands do this by listening and actually hearing their customers wants, needs, and complaints.
The first step to reaching out to consumers requires looking deeper at the context of what people are actually saying.
If a company isn’t using social media to understand what people are communicating, then they will never fully understand how to connect with the consumer.
Over the years A&F has failed to ask itself these important questions:
- What do millennials value?
- What are consumers actually saying about the company?
- What else are millennials interested in?
- What are the larger discussions happening online about certain products and services?
- What is the public perception of the brand?
Companies that ignore what’s going on around them tend to be the ones most often blindsided by the consumers shift in perception. Playing an active role in listening is the only way a brand can ever understand the consumer’s wants and needs.
One of the most obvious ways to do this is through social media. Social media is one of the biggest opportunities to directly communicate with consumers in order to develop deep, long lasting relationships.
In order to make a reinvent itself, Abercrombie & Fitch first needs to take note of what it’s done wrong in the past, in order to move forward and rectify those mistakes.
Only through a massive reinvention will A & F successfully thrive in today’s fast moving market place. Cutting expenses, improving the company’s culture and website, updating the mission statement and values, and embracing customer insight – these are all essential to A&F’s long-term success.