“Situation” is Publicity for Abercrombie & Fitch

Today’s announcement by Abercrombie & Fitch offering to pay MTV’s Jersey Shore cast members to stop wearing their brand on the show is a great  example of a company using a celebrity to drive a publicity stunt, only this time they are taking advantage of the celebrity. The retailer has targeted cast member Mike “the Situation“ Sorrentino with their offer citing how his continued association with the Abercrombie & Fitch brand could damage their image.

“We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans, “an Abercrombie & Fitch spokesperson said in a statement.”We
have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently waiting a response.”

Usually, a brand contracts with a celebrity spokesperson to endorse their product and become their brand ambassadors. In this case, Sorrentino, through his own personal taste, elected to continually wear Abercrombie & Fitch apparel on the popular reality series.  Now, after receiving free on-air exposure for their brand, Abercrombie & Fitch has decided to go public with a financial
offer to make the cast change their clothing.

Certainly, Abercrombie & Fitch own the news cycle with this stunt, but in the long run, have they done damage on their own to their brand?

Right now, the country is in the prime back-to-school shopping season-mode and fans of “The Situation” may not take kindly to Abercrombie & Fitch’s stance on the cast.  After the announcement, the company’s stock was down. The publicity associated with this is also sure to raise past issues of negative images associated with the Abercrombie & Fitch brand, which many are sure to revive.

Times-Union blogger Kevin Marshall took on Abercrombie & Fitch in a posting this afternoon:

This is the same company that in the past used underage models in provocative poses that would make Dr Ruth blush, had to apologize in 1998 for a “creative drinking” diagram in its clothing catalog that encouraged college students to binge drink, and came under scrutiny here and elsewhere in media some months ago when it started selling push-up tops to increase the bust size of eight-year-old little girls. And somehow it’s ”The Situation” that makes them look bad?

To the folks in the PR and Marketing department(s) at Abercrombie & Fitch: I’d revoke your s***-talking card, but you never qualified for one in the first place. A clothing line that has continually shown crass taste and marketed itself to the
lowest common denominator doesn’t really have much of a pedestal from which they can preach. The worst part, though,is that you’re encouraging one of the worst aspects of negative behavior in American youth. You’re a large corporation picking on individuals and trying to embarrass and shame them in front of the entire world in order to make yourselves look better. They may be easy targets, but no matter how big their paychecks are or what you may think of their lifestyle choices, that’s straight up bullying.

This announcement came on the same day the company announced its quarterly earnings, which beat expectations.

As the Chicago Tribune reported:

Abercrombie & Fitch is also no stranger to controversy. The all-American retailer has come under fire in the past for a range of topics ranging from negative stereotyping to sexually explicit material and employment practices.

The retailer’s stock fell 5 percent in midday trading despite its quarterly earnings, revealed on Wednesday, which beat expectations. The company reported a net sales increase of 23 percent in the quarter ended July 30, to $917 million. Even more dramatically, it reported a 64 percent surge in net profit to $32 million, or earnings of 35 cents per share.

Did Abercrombie & Fitch pick this fight because of shareholder backlash or to make their surging profit grow higher? From a public relations standpoint, they pulled off a winning stunt.  They fired their spokesman without ever having to pay him in the first place.  Then again, how much of an increase in sales did indeed come from fans of MTV’s Jersey Shore?  We probably will never publicly know that but we will be able to track whether this earnings day stunt has any long-term affect on Abercrombie & Fitch’s brand.  If so, they may have a real “situation” on their hands.

Tom Cosentino

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One Response to ““Situation” is Publicity for Abercrombie & Fitch”

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