This just in: An anti-bullying campaign has arrived from the last place anyone would have expected it... Abercrombie and Fitch. Yes, you heard that right. The controversial retailer that has routinely sparked public outrage and is often accused of hiring employees based on their appearance is now preaching acceptance. Really?
A&F has fallen on rough times over the past decade, facing public outrage at its politically incorrect shirt slogans and offensive remarks made by CEO Mike Jeffries, not to mention a major drop in sales as fashion trends moved away from the brand’s signature preppy look.
Abercrombie has been open about its commitment to a design overhaul, taking its logo off clothing and attempting to reimagine its aesthetic. Now the company has gone one step further, teaming up with Lucy Hale (of Pretty Little Liars fame) to put out an anti-bullying video and t-shirt line. They’re even offering a scholarship for students who have overcome bullying or have led anti-bullying efforts.
If you know anything about A&F’s CEO Mike Jeffries, this might come as a total shock. Back in 2006, Jeffries admitted to Salon that he wanted to “market to cool, good looking people” ... and no one else. The brand has also come under fire for refusing to sell plus-size clothing, as well as printing slogans many have identified as racist or sexist.
As a brand with a policy of only hiring attractive employees, (because, as Jeffries told Salon, “good-looking people attract other good-looking people”), it’s hard not to find the fact that it is now selling shirts with “be yourself” printed on the front just a tad bit ironic.
So what should we make of this change of heart? Is this representative of a real evolution of thinking, or simply the business strategy of a company that has seen stock prices and sales drop in recent years? So far, its aesthetic revamp seems to be successful. It seems likely that this latest move is simply another expression of the company’s new “be the opposite of what we used to be” strategy.
Whether or not Abercrombie is sincere, it seems that this new campaign, along with its other recent changes, say something positive about today’s society. The outrage that has faced A&F over the past few years—and the drastic changes that have resulted—prove that consumers’ voices (not to mention their wallets) have clout. The people spoke, and Abercrombie listened. I for one am happy to live in a world where exclusionary market strategies aren’t successful. Perhaps the ultimate bully—Abercrombie itself—has already been defeated.
What do you think? What’s motivating this new campaign—is it something that's sincere, or just a marketing ploy to bring relevance to the company again?