It will be no surprise to many that Abercrombie & Fitch falls under The Brand Avenger’s almighty, all seeing gaze this week. It has taken some time but quite recently a couple of skeletons have fallen out of its CEO’s cupboard.
The fact that Mike Jeffries originally made these comments several years ago only for them to now resurface AND ignite backlash demonstrates two things.
Firstly it clearly outlines the power of social media in giving the general public a voice, which in turn can contribute to a swell in strong feelings of resentment towards brands. In the case of A&F the insensitive comments have only now begun to hurt the clothing retailer even though the initial messages was communicated years previous. The below video has received 7.5 million views since it was released by Greg Karber on May 13th 2013. This video presented on YouTube has quickly become a thorn in the paw of the clothing giant.
Secondly, it is clear that this viral campaign has galvanized public opinion and led to negative criticism of the brand. This should prove a valuable lesson to all CEO’s around the world; when it comes to controversial matters or contentious issues it is probably best to keep your mouth shut. We can understand why Jeffries should care that his remarks have resurfaced when we look at the noticeable impact it has had on A&F’s brand perception. The below link provides access to A&F’s most recent brandindex scoring.
Robin Lewis article on A&F’s marketing strategy, the consequent viral campaigns that have supported these views and the increase in negative perception of the A&F brand couldn’t have come at a worse time for the brand. The spotlight coincided as if by magic with the release of first quarter results that were less than flattering for stockholder when trying on for size. And unfortunately for Jeffries or A&F investors the results don’t come with a receipt to return within 30 days; A&F is stuck with the uncool image for at least a couple of months while H&M and American Eagle hang out with the cool kids in the 18-34 demographic.
Does the recent backlash highlight a significant change in the attitude of the key 18-34 demographic? Quite possibly. We have access today to more nuggets of insight and information than ever before and it is not unusual to conclude that all consumers are becoming more immune to transparent marketing strategy. In an excellent article von der Heydt wonders if A&F’s problems can only be restricted to Jeffries comments or other factors such as poor inventory decisions that boarder on lazy in the ever changing world of fashion retail.
What is clear is that the upper echelons of A&F have some work to do. Despite looking to address concerns on its social media channels it is perhaps the comments from A&F’s own Facebook followers which say more than the half baked statement Jeffries released.
Back in the days when The Brand Avenger was still in super absorbent nappies (super absorbent for a super hero) my mother use to tell ‘if you haven’t got anything to say don’t say anything at all’. Whereas I cannot abide a blatant censoring of personal opinion I am also reminded that ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ (another superhero can take the credit for that saying). On controversial matters that can lead to negative opinion such as the exclusive school cliques, bullying and the rising obesity epidemic Jeffries should have kept his mouth shut. As one of the most important brand ambassadors A&F has it is important that he is seen as respectful member of society, aware of the power of his opinion and the impact it can have on brands. His comments may have been made 7 years ago but the Internet will take no prisoners when it comes to vilifying those who should know better.