Crisis Management Internal Communications Marketing PR & Corporate Communication Retail

Abercrombie: what a hole!

Considering the options when managing a social media crisis and limiting the repetitional impact

If you haven’t heard the story yet, here’s a quick recap…

The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch, Mike Jeffries was quoted back in 2006 in an interview with Salon magazine, ‘In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,’ ‘We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong, and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.’

Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie CEO
Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie CEO

Abercrombie and Fitch are then suggested by some retail observers to attempt to reinforce this policy by refusing to stock XL or womens sizes above a US 10.

This story finally went viral last week on Twitter and the blogsphere when a Los Angeles-based film maker, Greg Karber, posted a documentary on Youtube suggesting Abercrombie & Fitch also destroyed factory seconds rather than make them available for the homeless as they didn’t want to devalue their brand. Karber proposes action be taken and A&F clothing be donated globally to the homeless and become known as the brand of the homeless, promoting his very own #fitchthehomeless campaign It’s an interesting idea and worth a look:

The video has received over 6 million views within a week and the suggestion of affirmative action has been picked up by many, including Kirstie Alley and Jeffries’ comments have received a fresh burst of coverage from The Guardian and, naturally, the Daily Mail is outraged.

So, I’ve been thinking all week- if you’re Marketing Director of a retailer like Abercrombie in this position, what’s your next move? This could have a really negative impact on sales. The CEO asks you to get them out of this hole and what do you do?

  1. Resign because your ethical values aren’t in line with the business – I bet this is one that has been considered, by more than one employee. It’s a rather brave choice given market conditions and I’m more interested in what retail marketers might do if they wanted to keep their jobs:
  2. Launch a new Corporate Social Responsibility programme that assists the homeless in some way that doesn’t provide them with clothing, and then pretend it’s something you have had in place for years
  3. Persuade the business to back down on sizing policies and launch a new outsize range, eating humble pie
  4. Draft a formal apology from the CEO that his words were taken out of content and that you’re a supporter of many inititatives for the homeless or for individuals with weight difficulties. This is one action Abercrombie decided to take in a statement to the Los Angeles Times, but without making any apology or reminder of their charitable initiatives
  5. Find a few outsized celebrities willing to endorse your brand or better still, wear your heavily-branded clothing, and not in an ironic way either.

So, I’ve been thinking all week, and haven’t found a good solution. What would you do?

(Featured photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash)

1 comment

  1. It is an interesting position – the alternative is of course to do absolutely nothing.

    Let’s look at this through another lens – in real terms, A&F CEO is standing by the values of his brand, “only affluent beautiful people to be seen in the brands expensive clothes” – by refusing to stock sizes greater than US10 or plus sizes and by destroying seconds, is the brand doing anything actually wrong in terms of its stated brand values?

    We may not like it, we may be outraged, we may think it unethical, but the flip is at least they aren’t being two faced and bowing down to the self appointed PC brigade….

    For what it’s worth, if I was the marketing director, I would sit down with the board and establish how the brand could deliver against it’s desired brand values and establish an elegant solution to this situation – social media and asking its customer base to participate in the development of it’s CSR policy would be a smart way of taking its current base on a journey whilst moving to a more ethical position.

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