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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  • Anonymous

    I think it was smart tactic as you pointed out. I’d love to know what Abercrombie thinks of your analysis. You may be giving them more credit than they deserve! They may read this and think, “Why didn’t we think of that!” Great post.

    • Thanks for the note Joel.  I truly may be giving A&F more credit than they deserve but the one thing that stands out to be about this after the dust has settled is that EVERY morning talk show, cable news channel, news outlet, etc. is talking about it or has mentioned this.  Just Google “Abercrombie” and you will find pages and pages of links about the story.  If you ask me, A&F is chuckling in their corporate headquarters as we speak.  

      • Oh I’ve noticed the traction it’s received. It’s been hard to avoid it.  I’m sure we’ll see a spike in “dissing” strategy soon, too. 

  • Great post. It was a publicity stunt in typical A&F fashion (pun intended). There is no other clothing brand that is more suitable for the GTL crowd so I don’t get what A&F is fussing about.

    Did it work? Yes it did. There’s an element of reverse psychology here and a ton of publicity for the brand in return. I prefer them exploiting The Situation and the Jersey Shore cast to their benefit versus the other publicity stunt they pulled exploiting little girls by offering them push-up bikini bras. That’s just tasteless and very much like The Situation.

    Coming from Jersey, I think the cast ruined the little positive brand equity that New Jersey had as a state. It’s tough enough that the Garden State has been the butt of jokes for so many decades, but to add this cast of thugs as its accidental ambassadors is just outright cruel. I’d rather have New Jersey Gov. Christie offer MTV money to not use “Jersey” or come back for another season down the shore. Fuhgeddaboudit!

    • Thanks for the comments Joe.  It’s funny, but one of my friends from Jersey made a comment on a Facebook post saying essentially the same thing — the show casts the state in a bad light and does not truly reflect the way shore life, or New Jersian society really is.  Wonder if Gov. Christie and his staff are thinking what you suggested to offer MTV not to use Jersey or even perhaps thinking of banning the show from their state in which case, it may be filmed on the west coast instead.  Talk about your culture clashes! 

  • Bryan

    Great move by A&F. When this train wreck of a show ends and “The Situation’s” only source of income will be from the gay porn films he will be performing in, this move is going to look even better.

    • Thanks for the comment Bryan.  At least “The Situation” already has his screen name solidified.

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  • Calculated campaign, for sure. Nice analysis, John.

  • Amanda DiSilvestro

    Brilliant! This seems to be the only topic of conversation among my Facebook “status-happy” friends. I liked your thoughts on the idea that Jersey Shore is filming in Italy this year. I didn’t initially consider the European Abercrombie fans, but getting on their good side was a great move. After all, with The Situation running around Florence, I can imagine how much they must love anything that is giving him bad publicity.

  • Amanda DiSilvestro

    Brilliant! This seems to be the only topic of conversation among my Facebook “status-happy” friends. I liked your thoughts on the idea that Jersey Shore is filming in Italy this year. I didn’t initially consider the European Abercrombie fans, but getting on their good side was a great move. After all, with The Situation running around Florence, I can imagine how much they must love anything that is giving him bad publicity.

  • Sjochlin

    Some perspective from a fan of the show.

    I watch merely for the entertainment value but had consistently noticed Mike wearing flashy yellow/green/pink sweatpants. The sweatpants stand out like a sore thumb and I could not imagine anything but a critical review. After hearing about A&F’s solution, I looked back at previous shows and sure enough Abercrombie was plastered all over the TV screen. Maybe A&F was assuring its stakeholders that the sweats were being worn in the wrong context but then again, how were those fashion oversights meant to be branded.

    If you can’t stand behind your product, what are you saying to the average investor?

  • Great PR move. People have been talking about the decision non-stop for the past week, and I’m not just talking about Facebook status’ – radio stations have picked up the stories, E! Hollywood news, etc. This news is spreading like wildfire, which means so is the A&F brand name (not that it really needed help in the first place). If people weren’t logging on to check out A&F before, you can bet they are now.

  • Sharon Trader

    I agree it was a great move by A&F. I would want to dissociate myself from this show also (and  would never watch it!). Brilliantly written, JT. Good job and I’m very proud of you – of course, being your mom and all. 

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