Abercrombie & Fitch and Marketing 101

Dipping in and out of the social media channels today I’ve noticed a lot of irate posts and comments regarding a recent article in Business Insider about the comments made by the Abercrombie & Fitch CEO, Mike Jeffries.  Basically he has said that he only wants ‘cool, thin, beautiful people wearing Abercrombie’s clothes’.  Reading the comments stirred me – but not into resolute agreement with the dissenters I’m afraid.

Before I continue I will preface with saying I am not fatist, remember?  I’ve been there, and I know what it’s like not being able to buy the clothes I want.  Even if the sizes were available – at my largest I really should not even have been thinking about wearing some styles from stores like H&M and A&F.

So back to what Mr. Jeffries said.  Anyone who has studied Marketing 101 knows that every great (and not so great) brand has a target.  You sacrifice being everything to all people in order to become niche with a certain core target.  In theory all brands are exclusionary.  Cartier market to wealthy individuals, Jenny Craig market to those that want to lose weight, Walmart target to those that want to ‘Save money. Live better.’, and Lane Bryant market to plus size women.  Where are the complaints about these brands being exclusionary?  I bet if you saw some of the white boards in those offices with the brand’s target demos, psychos and guiding principles written out, you would shudder to see who it really is they want buying their product.

I disagree completely with The Daily Mail’s summary regarding the furore – “But it might be time to change this dated business model. Plus-size, generally referring to U.S. 14 and above, makes up 67per cent of America’s purchasing population.”  Let’s stop increasing this number and start addressing the problem by getting healthier America!  I’ve often aired my hope that Zara doesn’t start vanity sizing for the US.  Their sales are not as good here as in Europe due, it is said, to the larger average size of the American woman.  Put bluntly a lot of American women can’t fit into Zara’s Large (very few of their clothes go to an XL).  Keep the clothes as they are – those that are desperate to wear the clothes and can’t, can go for a run and stay away from the chocolate.

Now I do realize this isn’t just about being ‘large’.  It’s also the reference to needing to be a ‘cool kid’ to shop there – and I get that.  There are all sorts of pressures on children as it is – never mind them worrying about being cool enough or not to wear Abercrombie, but ‘kids that are cool’ versus ‘kids that are not’ is nothing new.  Yes I have watched The Breakfast Club way too many times.  As far as I am aware most high schoolers can’t afford to shop in A&F without their parents chipping in – so surely that is where a parent helps to guide them with their clothes choices?  If, as a parent, you oppose the brand’s targeting practices don’t shop there.

So in conclusion to my random thoughts on the subject – I actually applaud Mike Jeffries for being open about his target market – it really doesn’t take much to work it out.  I can’t see it damaging A&F, in fact for many it will become more desirable – and for those objectors there are many other places to shop.


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21 thoughts on “Abercrombie & Fitch and Marketing 101

  1. Kate Anwyll

    Your points would have merit if it wasn’t for the fact that A&F had men’s sizes up to an XXL. Oh I know the marketing…. This is to target American footballers and wrestlers. But the fact of the matters is fat American men can shop in A&F but Fat women aren’t cool enough. Screw that I am fat and I am still cool. And the American public are voting with their feet judging by the wayA&f closed 60 us stores in 2010, 50 stores in 2011 and 150 stores in 2012

    1. Poppy's Style Post author

      So they consolidated in the US but have gone from 52 to almost 100 international stores in 2011-2012 and comp. sales increased in fiscal 2010 and 2011 – I think they are still on an upward trend. I also don’t think they target anyone in our age group – I am guessing their max. age is 26 for marketing purposes. Of course we are still cool, but surely we have more appropriate cool places to shop? I can’t imagine you wanting to shop in A&F in the first place? Of course the brand is maybe perceived differently in the UK – maybe not so young – I know David Beckham likes their trunks! I wonder if he is an XL? Thanks for commenting Kate!

  2. deadlysims

    Hmmm – I’m not sure how I feel about it really. Re:Zara – I am a size 12-14 and recently tried on an XL jacket from their TRF range. I could barely get it on – definitely not Vanity sizing! I’m happy to admit I’m overweight, but it seems some stores do target skinny Minnie’s, and this goes for men’s brands too. My husband needs an XXL in Superdry – he is 12.5 stone and 6’2″ tall – certainly not remotely overweight! And he tried on the largest shirt size Diesel make last weekend and it was too small 😦
    I have problems with brands aiming for a certain demographic, but perhaps the size ranges need to be a little more realistic.

  3. avenue57na

    So pathetic is my reply that I nearly didn’t type it.
    “I agree with you”
    I didn’t at first when I read the Daily Fail headline – as always you need to think about it a bit more and I’m lazy .. you made me think – thank you!

  4. Martha Merrill Wills

    I do think America needs to get it together in regard to the size issues. I don’t care that Abercrombie focuses on a certain demographic, but I do worry that it’s targeted at young girls who have so much trouble with body image already.
    I’m with DeadlySims above…. a size 12 on top because of big boobs mostly, but I couldn’t get the TRF jacket I bought over my arms. It was hilarious and clearly not made for me. As someone said once, I look at it as the clothes being wrong, not me.
    On the flip side, I ordered some things from the women’s line that have been brilliant and fit just fine.
    I wish health was a focus instead of size, but it is what it is.

  5. Annette

    I find it concerning that people are defined by their clothing choices. I notice that a lot on the Boden Facebook page…and in the press.
    At the end of the day, we are free to buy whatever clothing brand we want, and brands who chose to exclude certain body types are actually losing money in my opinion.
    I enjoy clothes hugely, but they don’t define me, they are just garments, that come and go as fashions change.
    I think his comments are not worth getting upset about and it wouldn’t put me off buying his brand as I, the consumer have the power to choose what I buy.

  6. Pearl Westwood

    It’s probably a cleaver marketing thing saying what he did, I can see fans of the brand buying into it even more to increase their ‘cool’, its very school yard -but then that is their target audience isnt it! As you point out every brand has an image it wants to project, whether I agree with it or not isn’t really the point. Reminds me of the outrage Victoria Beckham supposedly expressed seeing Cheryl Cole in one of her dresses, issuing a press release to say she bought it as they would not have given it to her lol!

  7. Winston & Willow (@winstonAwillow)

    What a great post and so well written. I really have to agree with you with a lot that you said. I can understand why people are a bit offended by what the A&FCEO said, but in the whole scheme of things, clothes in these stores aren’t made to fit everyone. I get that the majority of stores carry sizes roughly from 2-14, but it would be like me going into a plus size store and complaining that they don’t make clothes that fit me.


  8. Sue

    Ooh such a difficult subject and I can see so many arguments for and against. I appreciate how brands need to target an audience and that audience needs to do credit and show off their product to the max. And I also get that some clothes should not be seen on some larger sized people but I also think there are a lot of people who have well balanced figures for their size and height and hide it incredibly well. A 6ft lady in a size UK 12-14 I would have said would look well balanced but she is already on the top scale of Zara. I’m not sure that is totally right. If she was a size 8, she would look almost a little too thin.

    But the one thing I do agree with and if you can do something about it (i.e. not genetic), you should focus on getting healthier if it bugs you that much if you really want to get in the clothes that much. I know when my jeans get tight, I know that means – lay off the hot buttered bagels!

  9. cc

    I don’t take issue with anyone’s marketing strategies. There are teen stores, and men’s stores, stores to purchase make-up, etc., etc. I think the issue with Jeffries has been with the way that he says things. While as a whole I think most would agree that we should all be healthy, that was not Jeffries intent. In fact, he has been known to say that he wants only, attractive, cool, young people in his store. And, as other readers mentioned, he does sell larger size men’s clothes, so what gives? You can’t be a 6 ft. or taller woman and wear a size that would be normal for your weight. And, women who are athletic tend to fit in larger sizes, but are far more healthy than the starving, tiny woman. There just seems to be a double standard here, one for men, and another for women. Which, I think, has been prevalent in our society for hundreds of years, right? So, I think really everyone has an individual healthy weight that is good for them, and they should stick with it. And, frankly, having a 13-year old and 14-year old, neither of them care to shop there, and they certainly wouldn’t be caught dead carrying one of their shopping bags with the scantily-clad or naked models. But, I guess that would mean that we’re not “cool” enough for their stores, which is fine by me!

    1. cc

      I just went to check online to see if there were the “airplane” rules that Jeffries requires on his jet. And they are if you google/search “Mike Jeffries airplane rules”. His rules require male models/airplane personnel to wear and dress and say certain things only. And, yes, it is employment-at-will, and certainly, wouldn’t be my will. The articles came about after Jeffries (68 years old) fired a pilot for being too old (55 years old). Jeffries is just kind of weird and rather full of himself, and has a way of insulting people. I suppose he must think this makes him rather “cool”!

      1. Poppy's Style Post author

        I think we’d be amazed how many airlines we use still have a ‘nice personality and beautiful’ recruitment policy – I know Virgin have lots of appearance ‘guidelines’ for their flight attendants. I’m not questioning Mike Jeffries personal hang ups or behavior – I just think the company practices seem to work for them and customers have the right to vote with their wallet. Don’t forget the own Hollister too and both brands are doing well with their comp. sales – so something is working. There are many jobs that still discriminate – preferring the ‘young and the beautiful’ crowd. I also don’t think it is coincidence how many corporate VPs and above are male and over 6ft tall…

    2. Poppy's Style Post author

      Exactly – we all have a choice:) I think a lot of the people who have an issue with his practices wouldn’t be shopping there anyway – surely after 29 you are too old for A&F – or am I now being ageist?

      1. cc

        I really am not disagreeing with the marketing strategy of A&F. I was just trying to state that the ire from his comments has more to do with the person he is than what he actually says.

      2. Poppy's Style Post author

        Oh I know don’t worry I get it:) I guess my point is that we shouldn’t question his personal choices – I’m irritated with everyone pointing fun at his obvious plastic surgery – who cares? – His choice! He seems to be making money for the company which is all a Board of Directors/shareholders are interested in…

  10. evi

    every company (and every customer) have to choose for themself. totally agree.

    nevertheless zara is frustrating me. I´m an EUR36-38 in the upper half and EUR42 in the lower half(now that´s weird, but I don´t see myself as “fat”) and I´ve given up trying on their clothes. a friend who´s a lot thinner than me is struggeling to fit into their clothes too.

    1. dinagideon

      Evi, I had to buy a large leather jacket from them and it fits exactly right and I have a tiny upper body for my height (5’8″) and wear a J. Crew size 4 or 6, and a Boden US 4 or 6/UK8 or 10.

      Then I went to the store and ended up trying on and loving a dress with a more fitted skirt in a size medium and it fit great, and my bottom half is where I carry all my weight. Very very weird sizing. I don’t know how Zara does it, I imagine a ton of on-line shoppers must be doing constant returns.

  11. Pingback: Mike Jeffries, you are a Douchebag | Morning Tempest Studios

  12. Anonymous

    Ha! His comments sum it up, their clothes are the most boring, uninspired ever, the only way they can market them is on the young, thin and beautiful, I reckon I could build a brand selling black bin bags as fashion if only that demographic sported them. I don’t really understand why ANYONE shops at A and F and all those similar style over substance shops. But well done on your more controversial viewpoint!


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