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business Comment Editor's pick

Abercrombie’s mistake has been about evolution, not just sex

abercrombie

Abercrombie & Fitch is looking to ditch its focus on “sexualised marketing”, moving away from the half-naked models it has used across its website, store windows and shopping bags for years.

By July, both the Aberbrombie & Fitch and Hollister brands will also no longer hire their sales staff based on body type or attractiveness, nor refer to them as models, but rather brand ambassadors.

Frankly, it’s about time. “Sex sells” might still be a relevant concept (the recent runaway success of 50 Shades of Grey as proof), but nowhere near as blatantly as it was in the 90s and early 00s, and Abercrombie hasn’t evolved much since.

Back then, it was powering forward through a world that also saw Tom Ford dominating at Gucci; reviving a brand based on another version of that very same sexualised notion. Its 2003 campaign featuring model Carmen Kass with a ‘G’ shaved into her pubic hair is still one of the most memorable.

For both brands at that time, associating clothing and accessories with a touch of the controversy worked. Gucci under Ford evolved from near bankruptcy to a group valuation of $10bn in 2004. Abercrombie led by CEO Michael Jeffries became one of the most recognisable global teen retailers, with 965 stores in 20 countries.

gucci

Comments in a 2006 interview are indicative of Jeffries’ focus on this sexualised, or if you’d rather, “exclusionary”, marketing. On sex and sexual attraction, he said: “It’s almost everything. 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.”

He continued: “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. 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.”

His formula however didn’t stand the test of time. Abercrombie sales have plummeted since – falling in six of the past eight years, with profit down 5.1% for 2014, and same-store sales by 10% last quarter. Shares have tumbled accordingly, down 39% over the past 12 months; all of which led to Jeffries departure in December of last year.

But the error Abercrombie made wasn’t in this strategy – it did after all work for quite some time – it’s in the fact it’s never changed it (the same could be said for the product, though that’s almost another story). In fact, walking into one of its stores in Manhattan this weekend, it might as well have been 15 years ago. Not only for the models, but also for the fact its powerful trademark aroma and exceptionally dark lighting were still the same – two other features also on their way out.

Marketing and communications have significantly evolved in the age of Instagram and other social media platforms. Where once it was all about the hard sell on aspirations to look like one of those oiled, buff bodies, now it’s arguably more about the “selfie”. There’s still aspiration there, but on a much more attainable level.

It’s your consumer’s contemporary, their friend next door, not the model hired to work the door. That’s why Brandy Melville does so well in this same market for girls, or why Nasty Gal took off to such an extent – products consumers want, sold to them in a way that absolutely makes sense to their lifestyle today. It’s hashtag marketing: your brand through the eyes of the very person you’re selling to.

In short, Abercrombie missed one vital thing in its revolution… evolution.

victoriassecret

But its time warp is representative of a whole wave of other US retailers at risk of meeting a similar fate. American Apparel is forever in the headlines for the same reason.

Even Victoria’s Secret, though still a marker leader, continues to run the same campaigns, with the same Angels, with the same fashion show. It’s becoming a tired model on the one hand, but it’s also one consumers are starting to push back against. A campaign in the UK featuring the line “Perfect Body” splashed across a shot of supermodels led to 27,000 signatures on a petition about body shaming in late 2014.

At some point, these brands will realise it’s not the same world it was 15 years ago, even if a hint of sex will always go a long way in marketing.

This post first appeared on WGSN.com/blogs

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Comment Editor's pick social media

Abercrombie’s ‘Let’s Get Social’ – a classic example of an in-store sharing #fail

ABERCROMBIE_kids - LET'S GET SOCIAL

Let’s talk about photos in stores.

This past weekend, millions of shoppers (albeit fewer than in 2013) descended on their favourite shops to pick up deals tied to Black Friday. Retailers accordingly ran varied promotions, offers and campaigns in a bid to drive that traffic their way – both in store and of course equally online.

Needless to say for many of them, a drive for social sharing anchored the initiatives. If you can get your goods shared / advocated for over Instagram, Facebook and Twitter tied to timed discounts particularly, that’s deemed a pretty hefty incentive for more people to shop.

This of course goes without saying for the seasoned social media staffer…

So how’s this for a confusing in-store strategy to accompany such a move then: Abercrombie & Fitch is running a campaign for the season with the tagline “Post it. Tag it. Like it.” appearing in its store windows. A no brainer for its digitally-savvy target consumer of course – Snapchat ahoy! Online, it’s kidswear line is also promoting the idea of sharing across the usual platforms. “Let’s Get Social,” reads its website header, as pictured above.

A colleague of mine, while researching Thanksgiving weekend retail experiences, did of course opt to shoot some of said imagery in-store. She hit up the brand’s Glendale Galleria location on Saturday at noon, height of the holiday shopping weekend therefore, but was very swiftly asked to put her phone away.

Ok so fair enough, she was shooting the messaging; perhaps there’s still an argument to be had around copyright protection etc etc etc for retailers (though I actually want to argue this pretty heavily these days too given the image-driven world in which we now live), and the associates spotted her for looking more professional than social media-y.

What’s more mind-blowing though is the 13-year-old girls in the store at the same time who were asked to stop taking photos of themselves (#selfies!) when trying on a couple of hats.

The hipster sales guy, as my colleague so eloquently put it, walked over immediately and asked them to stop. He also told others of a similar age no photos at all were allowed to be taken in-store.

I witnessed the same only a couple of months ago in Gap. This time it was a guy in his 30s who was asked to stop. Admittedly he didn’t perhaps look like the type that was about to share his finds on social media, but rather ask his girlfriend’s opinion on whether or not to buy (“Darling, can I #dressnormal?). He certainly wasn’t about to take the shot of the blue jumper he was holding and frogmarch it straight to a factory in China for replication though I assure you.

I suspect in both instances this is a classic case of corporate strategy not reaching sales floor level. Understandably many tech-related things, especially for retailers with so many doors, get lost somewhere down the line. But this isn’t a matter of something substantially confusing or complex – a mere conversation with each manager should suffice.

At the end of the day, how do you expect to have a successful social media campaign and NOT allow social media in the one place you can truly call your own? Abercrombie team – suggest you call Glendale, stat.

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digital snippets e-commerce social media

Digital snippets: Tumblr, Versace, Club Monaco, Chanel, Abercrombie, McQueen

A round-up of recent stories from around the web surrounding all things fashion and digital:

Versus_Versace

  • Is a Yahoo-owned Tumblr more attractive to brands? [AdAge]
  • Versace transforms Versus line into a ‘digital brand’ (as pictured) [Fmag]
  • Club Monaco creates all-blogger look book (and launches it on Tumblr) [DisneyRollerGirl]
  • Keira Knightley stars as Coco Chanel for new Karl Lagerfeld film, Once Upon a Time [Fashionologie]
  • Video takes aim at Abercrombie & Fitch for “exclusionary” policy, spurs homeless campaign [Hollywood Reporter]
  • Alexander McQueen and McQ websites get new look [WWD]
  • Why Victoria’s Secret and Burberry win in social media — and other fashion brands fail [Business Insider]
  • The seven species of social commerce [Mashable]
  • YouTube jumps into retail with shoppable videos for brand channels, first client is Unilever’s Tresemmé [BrandChannel]
  • Wearable technology market set to explode, could reach $50 billion, says Credit Suisse [BoF]
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digital snippets mobile Uncategorized

Digital snippets: Uniqlo, Abercrombie, Louis Vuitton, Nike, J.Crew, Club Monaco, Tory Burch, adidas

I’m playing a massive round of catch-up post work and leisure travel… more on the former to follow, but in the meantime, here’s a look at some of the biggest stories surrounding all things fashion and digital from the past couple of weeks. Did I miss anything? Let me know in the comments below…

 

  • Uniqlo mesmerises Pinterest users with mass pinning for Dry Mesh Project [BrandChannel]
  • Abercrombie & Fitch models cover ‘Call me Maybe’, video goes viral (as above) [Abercrombie & Fitch]
  • Louis Vuitton’s new interactive site teaches you how to pack [FastCo.Create]
  • Nike becomes first UK company to have Twitter campaign banned [The Guardian]
  • J.Crew’s latest online venture, Hello World, invites Scott Schuman and Garance Doré to capture five global tastemakers [Refinery29]
  • Club Monaco launches Facebook Timeline app [Mashable]
  • Tory Burch resets with app, revised blog [WWD]
  • adidas athletes #takethestage in its biggest-ever marketing push [Campaign]
  • Fashion to embrace ‘social gaming’ [WWD]
  • Nasty Gal’s Sophia Amoruso: fashion’s new phenom [Forbes]
  • Pinterest has users, Fancy has a business model [AdWeek]
  • NYC and Mayor Bloomberg launch Project PopUp, a fashion tech start-up competition [BoF]
  • 10 fashion memes that took the internet by storm [Fashionista]