Abercrombie & Fitch (A&F) is an American clothes retailer with over 1000 locations worldwide (300+ in the US), that focuses on upscale casual wear for young consumers. The brand name was, at one point, synonymous with quality, desirable clothing emblazoned with the classic ‘A&F’ lettering – an ‘international near-luxury lifestyle concept’. More recently, however, it has been the subject of several controversies including discrimination on the basis of physical appearance, sexually explicit and racist ad campaigns, and promoting an elitist attitude on the basis of looks or social status. The peak of its seemingly terminal decline came when controversial long-term CEO Michael Jeffries brutish ‘exclusionary marketing’ tactic of keeping clothes upto only large (or UK 10 sizes) came under severe criticism from retail analysts. Many believed that he only desired thin, beautiful people to enter his stores and despised the idea of large or obese people wearing his brand.
Analysis – Rebranding & Opportunities
As sales declined and teens moved away from the kind of ostentatious branding A&F was famous for, the company recently attempted a different approach to its brand message and delivery. The tweaks included:
(i) developing classic product designs devoid of over-the-top logos
(ii) an advertising strategy drawing away from the previously integral “sex appeal” component – “G-rating” its image – removing semi-nude scenes, and
(iii) revamping in-store designs and experience with staff with actual shirts as opposed to the ab-baring brand ambassadors of the past.
The policy change reflects part of Abercrombie’s struggle to become relevant again as the tastes of teenage shoppers change – with more sensitive, reproachful and minimalistic shoppers dominating the market. While the reinvention of A&F continues apace, A&F just this year was ranked by the American Consumer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) as America’s most hated brand, reflecting a negative sentiment and low perception of experience quality. As a result, there is much work left to do in convincing consumers that the brand is now about the product merchandise over the ‘human’ merchandise.
Fortunately, the market sentiment in terms of sales and stock values seems to be warming towards the reinvented brand, with figures improving from the lows seen in 2011-2013. The key is to improve the consumer experience and strengthen the brand identity.
Additionally, Abercrombie & Fitch is expanding its digital and physical presence across Asia, recently launching 10 new ecommerce sites for its Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister brands serving China, Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Taiwan. Nevertheless, their digital and social media presence in Asia remains a marketing strategy with potential to expand, to leveraged on and to mobilize an as yet ‘neutral’ market in terms of brand sentiment. We would look to the Chinese and Singaporean markets as primary drivers of a strong brand community.
How can A&F leverage on its social media outlets to capitalize on their rebranding effort and opportunities in Asian markets?
Potential areas of research:
- Will a change in focus to “looking good” from “good looking people” help A&F’s brand perception and effectively craft a new brand identity?
- Will using models from markets in question lead to a rehabilitation of the brand image/increase brand perception, for example, in the Chinese or Singaporean market?
- How integral is social media to A&F’s marketing and PR strategies?
- How can A&F’s brand community be mobilized through social media?
Value of Study
Objective 1: to step up A&F’s image revamp and rebranding exercise
Objective 2: explore untapped Chinese and Singaporean markets with neutral brand perception
Objective 3: using social media as the vehicle of new PR strategy and build a wider, stronger brand community
The following techniques will deliver a good blend of quantitative metrics and qualitative insights to facilitate answering our research question:
- Conversation analysis on social media:
Taking into account posts on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and blogs and evaluating overall brand image and consumer sentiment.
- Evaluation of social media content/strategy:
Including coherence of marketing strategies across platforms, frequency of posting, activity over past 60 days, strength of followership, brand responsiveness, and more.
(i) A&F on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter; and
(ii) Analysis of competitors such as Aeropostale on the same platforms
- Secondary research:
Market trends in upscale casual wear, best practices on social media, and other topics as and when required.
We feel that Abercrombie & Fitch is a company that is determined to fight its way back into the market as a desirable lifestyle brand with a renewed focus on inclusivity of all consumer types into the brand community. Given the platform it has built for itself, and the opportunities still on offer in the Asian market, we hope our proposed content strategies will aid in ramping up the rebranding exercise.
– Alethea, Sheena, Shivin, Shaurya, Ser Yang