Abercrombie’s Latest Move – Bad PR or Calculated Branding Campaign?

Being the news aficionado’s that we PR Pros are, by now I’m sure that you caught the news that Abercrombie & Fitch coincided a release about their fiscal 2nd quarter earnings increasing 64% with a not so subtle side note that they have offered money to Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino from MTV’s “Jersey Shore” to stop wearing the clothing brand on their show.  Hmmm.  Interesting footnote to an earnings release, don’t you think?

Now, I have never seen one millisecond of the TV show but I have seen commercials for it leading me to believe that it not only isn’t something that I would want to watch but falls under the category “Realty Trash” in my book.  However, Abercrombie’s announcement did give me pause to think, “Was this a smart move or bad PR?”  After all, it seemed like a calculated risk for them to blatantly send a message to viewers of one of the top Reality shows in the U.S. that they think Mike “The Situation” is a bad influence and dare I say, a loser. 

Wouldn’t one of their goals be to stimulate U.S. sales in their target market to offset cost pressures, lower margins and macroeconomic uncertainty on a global scale which were two distinct areas of caution they pointed out in the earnings release?

I quickly realized that this was a very smart move by Abercrombie.   Abercrombie’s U.S. sales are flat and the majority of their growth comes from international sales (accounting for 74% of their sales jump).  Currently, the Jersey Shore is filming in Florence, Italy and to be quite honest, Italians and a majority of Europeans are not very big fans of Mike “The Situation, ” Snookie, or the TV show.  Consequently, Abercrombie identified their positive earnings release as an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone.  Actually, three birds.

The first was their positive news about the earnings.  As you may have noticed, they were pleased with the earnings, but cautious about market conditions and the future negative impact of economic externalities surrounding the earnings jump.  Reason to celebrate, but also an opportunity to remain cautious in a time of economic turmoil and uncertainty.  Smart PR.

Secondly, since they are currently filming in Florence and as pointed out earlier, Europeans aren’t big fans of the show, so this was an opportunity to seemingly disassociate their brand with someone who they claimed went against the “aspirational nature” of their show  and may be “distressing” to their customers (secretly though, I bet Abercrombie’s execs were giggling with delight that someone as popular in pop culture as Mike “The Situation” is prancing around in their sweatpants with their logo prominently displayed).  After all, publicly dissing the show sends a message to their core European target market that they understand the stigma associated with the characters and show and want to disassociate themselves with something that vile.  International brand rep mop up stage 1 complete.

And third, Abercrombie used this PR opportunity to send a resonating message to their U.S. customers, a bit of reverse psychology if you ask me.  They sent the message that they acknowledged that bad boy Mikey is not a character they want associated with their posh brand which they evidently market to a demographic a tad different what you would think is the typical Jersey Shore fan, as is evidenced by one quick glance at their web site.  In my opinion though, what they were trying to do with this announcement was to:

  1. Capture shock value by being arguably the first brand to announce that they want a celebrity to STOP wearing their clothes.  Did they realize that in this cluttered world of seemingly endless marketing messages that shock value was the only way they could get through to their sagging U.S. customer base?
  2. Verify that they acknowledge Mike “The Situation” is indeed a controversial and abrasive (a bad boy if you will) personality that they do not think is best associated with their brand’s” lofty” image.  What this actually does is rekindle interest in the brand by making such a seemingly outrageous claim and indirectly is designed to stir curiosity to drive both web and brick and mortar traffic to increase sales.  It’s no secret that Mike “The Situation” portrays a demeanor and attitude that many a youth in the U.S. want to emulate so why not reach this audience and introduce them to a brand they may not have otherwise paid much attention to?

Smart PR moves by Abercrombie on many levels if you ask me.

(If you are wondering if this was also meant to be a ploy to boost sales of their “Fitchuation” clothing line I can tell you that this line is not sold by Abercrombie, it’s sold by a knock off pretending to be the A&F corporate brand.  I called Abercrombie today to ask about the line and if they received a noted increase in the number of phone calls because of today’s announcement.  The rep had no idea about the announcement (internal communications fail) and confirmed that they do not carry the Fitchuation line of clothing.)

What are your thoughts on the Abercrombie PR move?

John Trader is a Public Relations and Social Media Specialist with M2SYS Technology, a recognized industry leader in biometric identity management technology.  Follow John on Twitter @John_Trader1

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