Yea, I know; I swore the brand died YEARS ago too. If you’ve been on Netflix lately, you’ve likely seen the new documentary “White Hot” which is all about the rise, and the heavy fall, of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand.
Honestly, I wasn’t planning to watch it because 1. I rarely wore the brand (I was more of an American Eagle girl) and 2. I hated the infamous moose that was plastered on every single item. Once I heard about why the brand tanked so dramatically, however, it was impossible to take my eyes off the screen.
Where They Went Wrong
It’s a pretty simple reason: the brand lacked diversity and it suffered as a result. In the early years of the brand, Abercrombie was known for hiring only young, good-looking, white teenagers to be the face of the brand. For example, shopping bags featured white, shirtless (with perfect bodies) males who projected the “perfect” person to try to be.
As the documentary shares, they were selling their consumers “belonging” and “confidence” which, once it came down to how they were selling it, ended up being their biggest mistake. I mean, teaching young teenagers a highly idealized way of how they should look isn’t quite the healthiest marketing tactic.
Even after many years, Abercrombie still refused to change their brand strategy. They kept their “old-fashioned” ways of branding with super thin, white models, and as the movement for greater diversity and inclusion strengthened in the 21st century, Abercrombie was left behind.
Obviously, no one was going to let Abercrombie off the hook for their tactics. According to Insider, the company was first sued in the early 2000s for an offensive clothing line that highlighted Asian stereotypes.
Then, they got sued again in 2012 for accusations against their CEO, who stepped down in 2014 due to allegations against him.
How They Saved Their Brand- Or At Least Tried To
Don’t think this rebranding was a super quick process. For quite a few years, the brand basically lay dormant. However, they slowly began to make changes.
They started by cutting back on the huge logos and replaced them with smaller emblems. And the moose I despised got the boot.
In 2015, Abercrombie got rid of the shirtless male greeters (yes, they had men meet you shirtless at the front of the store). They also decided it would be a good move to stray away from the dark and dim stores and gave them a lighter, airier boutique feel to help attract new customers.
One of their biggest changes was the shift in who they were marketing to. Instead of marketing to a younger audience, they made the change in 2015 to sell to the 18-25 age category.
After hiring a female CEO, the brand was finally ready for its comeback in 2018. The company introduced more diversity within its workforce and in the same year was ranked first in gender diversity “out of the 55 Fortune 1000 companies in Ohio by the National Diversity Council, with the highest percentage of women in corporate governance roles” (Insider).
To help its image further, Abercrombie continued to strive toward a more diverse workforce with the inclusion of other ethnicities and sizes.
Where Are They Now?
Unfortunately, like many other companies, COVID-19 hit A&F pretty hard, and they temporarily closed a lot of stores.
On the bright side, the public doesn’t see them in the same light as they did in the early 2000s and the marketing team deserves a gold star for this achievement.
If we can learn anything about marketing from Abercrombie, it’s that as society changes, your strategies should to reflect the marketplace. Better still, don’t wait for society to change and instead be the change that society needs.