by April Renee
Writing Sample 1
|The twenty-first century is not unaccustomed to novel concepts or techniques; for instance, up until now the human genome project was not even thought to be possible of being fully understood, let alone, finished. And with the introduction of items such as iPods and portable computers, people have adapted their lifestyles to a new level with different means of communication and societal interactions. Advertising became no exception; the burst of mass-produced products from factories flooded the market with multiple versions of essentially, the same exact product (Klein, page 6). As society developed into a more complex entity, advertisers were forced to evolve as well and discover new sophisticated means with which to penetrate the market in order to distribute their messages effectively. One of these strategies relies on sexuality as it became increasingly common and acceptable in the American media and has been strategically used in retail for companies such as Abercrombie & Fitch. While this new form seems to have been quite effective, it also evokes strong controversy in regards to their fixed image of what is considered acceptable sexuality throughout race, sexual preferences, and even equal employment opportunities. |
Brand identity also assisted with the success of sexually-explicit advertising, to be sure. To brand an item was to evoke the pathos of the audience by personalizing the product and by taking “a psychological/anthropological examination of what brands mean to the culture and to people’s lives” (Klein, page 7). As the author of No Logo, Naomi Klein states that this “brand essence” greatly influences the public as it allows them to focus on a particular brand due to the relevance it has upon their lives. With the audience intended for Abercrombie & Fitch, the identifier would be a longing to appear young and attractive while being included in a group of friends that is equally attractive. While these intentions seem reasonable from a marketing standpoint (especially for the lost college-aged public struggling through identity crises), the reality behind this strategy is that the image developed by Abercrombie consists of a debatable, all-too exclusive group.
Mark Ritson portrayed the aspect of this exclusive group in his article entitled “Abercrombie Has XXL-Sized Problem.” Ritson begins by stating that Abercrombie & Fitch represent a perfect example of how a brand name has evolved to incorporate a lifestyle. This can be seen in the wall-sized pictures displayed throughout the store, where effortlessly beautiful college kids smile while playing football or frolicking across the beach. These All-American images may invoke camaraderie, yet, is it really All-American to exclusively provide clothing “only for the young, the thin, and the beautiful” (Ritson)? If, by definition, the brand of Abercrombie & Fitch were to serve a purpose to pursue an American lifestyle, it appears that liberty should be included in this pursuit, and serving such a restrictive typecast denies this purpose entirely. In addition, the content within such famous photographs provoked an uproar within the general public when Abercrombie decided to condense their gallery into a racy catalog. An article on CNN portrays the series of catalogs, which contained “nude young adult models in highly suggestive poses, as well as articles on sex -- elements apparently intended to boost the clothing retailer's brand among college-age customers (Bhatnagar).” Although sex had been a common advertising ploy within the fashion industry, many believed the extent of the content was unnecessary and “pushed the envelope too far (Bhatnagar)” as it provoked boycotts and a decline in business from offended consumers. In an attempt to combine experimental fashion with experimental advertising, Abercrombie & Fitch lost sight of the fact that models must wear some element of clothing to represent their brand. They are, after all, a clothing brand. Even so, the controversy over said catalogs sparked yet another issue of sexual preferences. Klein categorizes this debate as a marketing “revelation,” because “the youth demographic held the key to marketing success (pg. 112).” And “youth demographic” referred to every possible preference, including homosexual or heterosexual. By including racy and controversial catalog photos of “guys in their underwear making goo-goo eyes at each other (Klein, page 112),” Abercrombie broke another marketing barrier by reaching the gay community within their targeted youth demographic. The brand had taken several transformations, from sheer All-American camaraderie, to gay pride. The paradox continues as one also considers the sizing of the clothes on the storefront; 2 extra-extra-larges, 2 larges, 3 mediums, 4 smalls, 4 extra-smalls for every style and SKU of clothing. Ironically, the actual audience for the brand is a decade older and extra-large-sized than the targeted audience according to Ritson. An important factor to consider is how this affects the A&F image of slender, young, beautiful people. If the general public became keen on this statistic where older, heavyset people were actually their current main clientele, Abercrombie would risk losing their carefully-maintained image and branding that they have strived to protect. Chief Executive Officer Mike Jeffries could presumably eliminate large sizes to re-assimilate and reconfirm their exclusive clientele.
Furthermore, there is an undeniable truth that 90% of the models represented in the photos and as brand representatives throughout the store are of Caucasian decent. The reality behind the questionable race representation associated with the brand name of Abercrombie & Fitch prompted a civil lawsuit on June 17, 2003 entitled Gonzalez el al. v. Abercrombie & Fitch. According to the lawsuit, “nine young adults of color (were) refused sales jobs or terminated based on their race or ethnicity.” The company’s basis for these actions stated that those excluded from the crew lacked the “A&F look” necessary to represent and support the brand, or that they were maxed out on the allotted number of representatives of those races. Enacting the lawsuit drew the attention and support of several civil rights groups such as the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the NAAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, as well as reputable law firms. While lawsuits filed against employers for unequal opportunity was nothing new, this particular instance stimulated the media as well as the general public because of the age group it involved. The prosecutors were college-aged young adults, and “for many…this is their first foray into the job market” according to Cabraser attorney Bill Lane Lee. As first-time applicants venturing into the real world, the college students were exposed to an ugly truth, that discrimination and racism is still very much a part of our society. The lawsuit indicates how future outlooks of these young adults will be tainted with discouragement and civil unrest due to the exclusive treatment exhibited by Abercrombie & Fitch.
Although the brand name Abercrombie & Fitch has taken some hard hits with its notorious exclusivity in the job market and edgy photographs, the company also established something revolutionary on the marketing front; it managed to establish itself as a brand based on a human tendency where “people want what they can’t have (Ritson),” thus, forming a sense of exclusivity to protect the image of an ideal people for all of America – and eventually, Europe – to strive to be. The second marketing breakthrough lies in the recognition of the youth, their driving power to dominate sales, and the inclusion of homosexual imagery to render a new audience that may have otherwise gone unrecognized. The deliberate ploys created within the corporation may be expected to offend, shock, or exclude, but it does establish a guaranteed truth: Abercrombie & Fitch will not go unrecognized.
Klein, Naomi. No Logo. St. Martin’s Press. 2002.
Ritson, Mark. “Abercrombie Has XXL-Sized Problem.” Haymarket Publishing Services. 2008.
“Abercrombie & Fitch Charged With Employment Discrimination” Copyright www.Hugesettlements.com. 2009.
Bhatnagar, Parija. “Abercrombie Kills Racy Catalog.” CNN. 2003.