In this instalment of our blog, Elemntz will look at Abercrombie & Fitch. Abercrombie & Fitch is an American clothing company based in Ohio (US) founded in 1892 by David Thomas Abercrombie and Ezra Hasbrouck Fitch. Nowadays, Abercrombie & Fitch is one of the major U.S distribution groups specializing in urban and informal fashion. Its main competitor are aeropostale and American Eagle Outfitters. A&F were leaders but now have two competitors with lower prices and promotional offers to loyal customers. Which A&F does not offer. The company operates through four brands mainly targeting different youth segments from 7 to 22 years old. The group owned 1049 stores in 10 countries. The idea of the founder was to make this brand aspirational worshiped by beautiful, popular young Americans.
The first time i heard about A&F was in the news in 2004. The brand was accused of racial discrimination. Later on it was a scandal with a disabled person among some other controversies with customers. The company has also been accused of promoting the sexualization of pre-teen girls. With all of the above, the customer perception of the brand was associated with negativity. This is one of the reasons of the new branding positioning of A&F in 2016.
“This new brand position is the product of 18 month effort to create a brand identity that communicates our focus on our customers need and aspirations. Rather than buying clothes that symbolize membership in an exclusive group, today’s consumer celebrates individuality and uniqueness. Our new brand reflects that confidence and independence of spirit, as well as our own dedication to a more diverse and inclusive culture” Said Fran Horowitz president, and chief merchandising officer. And it paid in A&F latest financial report they were 3,5 billion up which represent 5% more than the previous year. Let’s analyse what didn’t work with A&F internal marketing ? Carroll (1979) developed the “organizational Social Performance model” a framework that integrates social responsibility dimensions into the company’s corporate culture and decision making process. With this model, he made clear that business should take into account the existence and relevance of stakeholders. Let’s start with the stores. Which are the contact point, as well as the link between the company (through the employees) and the consumers. The stores are the core of the A&F business model. It is the main communication channel for the brand image.
A&F is equally known for its hooded sweatshirts, as for the atmosphere of its shop similar to a nightclub. With dark colors, loud music, and the house perfume “Fierce” The careful and meticulous design of the shopping experience is the brand main engine. Other than that, what strikes you as you enter an A&F shop are the beautiful, tall, young and friendly employees. They are lively and permanent advertising campaign for the brand. Mike Jeffries, the creator of the brand says:”We hire good-looking people in our stores, because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market the cool,good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” In this sense, A&F has a clear positioning and an attractive image for its target customer, by using its employees as physical ambassadors (most of the advertisement campaign use A&F has models). Therefore their vision and strategy are that the employees are “special” because part of the “beauty elite” as well as their consumer. This method has been denounced by stakeholders, employees as well as the media, as they are by nature discriminating.
Many employees have declared that working for A&F has been a very interesting personal experience, due to the training they have received and the professional development opportunities the company offers. However other employees find it very difficult as they needed to face “Beauty discrimination”; “The thinner and more conventionally good looking you are, the closer you were to the front. Ethnic minorities and overweight people most of the time went to work in the stock room, along with anyone who wasn’t tall or facially symmetrical enough to fold T-shirt.” said one employee. This infernal marketing philosophy in stores creates another hierarchy between employee from the same grade base on a superficial as well as a personal vision of beauty for the founder. After this public scandal and bad publicity, employees image becomes also negative. It is evident that the person who apply for the brand somehow share their values which can be resume by “Only appearance counts”. In the case of A&F we can say that they badly managed their infernal marketing. Indeed a good leader gives the tone to his/her team, and by creating a toxic environment based on subjectivity Jeffries created a negative environment affecting their self confidence, increasing the staff turnover and the disaffection of the consumers.