Abercrombie & Fitch was my favorite store ever when I was eleven years old. I used to beg my mom to take me back-to-school shopping there so I could strut into middle school with moose-emblazoned everything. That was in 2007—right in A&F’s prime time.
By the end of 2011, A&F wasn’t even in my list of top 5 stores to visit at the mall. It was replaced with brands like PacSun, American Eagle, and Urban Outfitters.
Unfortunately for Abercrombie & Fitch, my relationship with their brand is nothing out of the ordinary.
Now, they’re on the rebound with a new marketing campaign–but is it enough to change consumer’s opinion?
Breaking an image in one sentence
In A&F’s heyday they had one of the strongest brand images in the teen retail market. Even if you could only navigate the mall by smell, you would know when you were in Abercrombie by their iconic over-fragranced merchandise. Their stores are dimly lit, all the employees are gorgeous, and there’s over-sexualized male models displayed in the entryway, on the bags and sometimes in the flesh.
You have to hand it to their ex-CEO, Mike Jeffries. He was a public relations nightmare, but he definitely succeeded in giving the brand a defining aesthetic. Unfortunately, that same aesthetic that contributed to their early 2000’s success was a key component of their recent economic downturn.
When a 2006 Jeffries quote went viral on the internet in 2013, Abercrombie got the rep of being the mall’s Regina George–a cliquey, exclusive mean girl. Jeffries straight up admits to being exclusive. He’s quoted saying:
…we go after the cool kids…a lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
After national negative news, protests for extended sizes to fit curvy women, and lawsuits about employees not being able to wear religious garbs to work, it’s fair to say that Abercrombie needed a change before their mean girl rep ran them out of business.
A new groove
A&F began rebranding in 2014 by phasing out shirtless models as a brand symbol and eliminating appearance-based hiring policies. Merchandise is also noticeably logo-less, a sharp change from the Abercrombie of 2007.
Over the past week, A&F unveiled a new advertising campaign called “This is Abercrombie”. Their new creative director of marketing, Ashely Sargent Price, says that their new pictures will feature brighter lighting, less fitted styling and an overall more positive mood.
Rebranding is risky. Brand experts have said that getting rid of the aesthetic that defined them carries the potential for the customer to become completely out of touch with the brand.
A real-life impression
Since I’m endlessly interested in branding, I went to my local Abercrombie store to see how the rebrand was manifesting.
The first thing I noticed was the rather bold and somewhat confusing tagline “People have a lot to say about us. They think they’ve got us figured out.” printed on their windows. It definitely caught my attention, but it does seem like something a mean girl would tweet when she knows she’s the topic of gossip.
I did notice that the shirtless men were almost entirely absent. Models did appear to be less made up, but definitely still skinny and gorgeous. The store is still dimly lit and I can still smell it from 10 yards away. To be honest, it still seems like same old Abercrombie & Fitch–except less moose.
To further investigate, I watched their teaser video to introduce their campaign. The 30-second video is below:
I do notice a more optimistic vibe and the models seem to have personality. I’m attracted to the way their redesigned website looks and the way they’ve presented their merchandise through photography and design. I think one of A&F’s key challenges was getting rid of the rep that their clothes are for middle school aged kids, and I think their advertising does successfully target an older audience. I’m 20 and I don’t feel like the brand looks younger than me, which is good.
Is it working?
Overall, I think you have to be looking for the brand changes in order to notice them–and I’m not sure if that’s a good thing. From all the buzz their new campaign is getting, I guess I expected something to jump out as radically different. At first I was a little bit disappointed that everything seemed somewhat the same.
After thinking about it, I’m glad their vibe still seems like Abercrombie. The problem wasn’t that Abercrombie seemed like Abercrombie, the problems were their cliquey mean girl hiring/sizing policies, their opinionated CEO, and their unnecessarily sexualized advertisements. All of those things have been taken care of with this new campaign, so in my eyes, they’re set.
Let’s just hope it shows in their sales.