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!”
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.