Mixed Signals: Abercrombie & Fitch vs. Jersey Shore

Mixed Signals is Erin Straza’s weekly musing about marketing miscellany in advertising, branding, and messaging.

You’ve likely heard how Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) has been pushed against the ropes in several legal battles due to their extremely sexual product offering and brand strategy. Remember the thongs for kids and push-up bikini tops for elementary schoolgirls? Despite public outcry, A&F hasn’t changed much; the image is one they seem to be comfortable with.

Something A&F isn’t comfortable with is the association of its brand with MTV’s Jersey Shore—particularly with cast member Mike Sorrentino’s regular donning of A&F-marked clothing. A&F is now the initiator of a legal bout to protect its brand integrity.

The case read like a hyped-up boxing match. I could hear the ring announcer call it: Let’s get ready to rumble—marketing style. It went something like this . . .

“Fighting out of the sex-sells-even-with-preteens corner, from New Albany, Ohio, weighing in at $3.5 billion in sales, the current Champion in Offending Parents, Abercrombie & Fitch!

“And in the train-wreck-that-makes-us-feel-better-about-our-lives corner, from MTV’s reality shore Jersey Shore, weighing in at 8.45 million viewers weekly, the current Champion in Offending Jersey, Mike, ‘The Situation,’ Sorrentino!”

And then we would get the boxing commentator’s play-by-play . . .

A&F threw the first punch by asking The Situation to never wear its clothing on-air ever again. An NPR article tells us the pain was eased by offering the entire Jersey Shore cast a “substantial payment” for compliance. A&F explains: “We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image.”

Then A&F delivered a surprisingly quick follow-up move: A&F chuckled, patted The Situation on the back, and said it was all in good fun.

Confused by the turn of events? Well, PR experts are calling this a master move by A&F, who is receiving an enormous amount of press for the bout. In this pseudo fight, A&F wants to protect the integrity of its brand by minimizing its association to The Situation, reminding us that Scripture rings true: Bad company really does corrupt good character (1 Cor. 15:33).

By disassociating itself from the negative image of Jersey Shore, A&F is sending the message that its brand is much more respectable, relatively speaking. A&F may design seductively inappropriate clothing for children, but that’s way different than Jersey Shore.

Perhaps A&F considers itself classy-sexy rather than raunchy-sexy?

I’m not sure how we decide a winner in this match. Good thing we didn’t buy ringside seats.

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