If you haven’t heard, Mike Jeffries, CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch is currently embroiled in yet another major PR gaffe for his 2006 quote: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, 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 [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
Alas, this isn’t yet another blog about how his company is contributing to bullying and eating disorders.
This is just an excellent example of how crazy fast online conversations can affect your brand. It remains to be seen how his comments will affect the company financially – so far, the stock hasn’t taken an unrecoverable nosedive. But many a parent has loudly proclaimed that they will never shop at A&F again so the fallout from this whole thing might take months and years to assess.
Here are three takeaways from this saga:
1. Clearly Mike Jeffries does not care or does not realize how his divisive comments will outrage a whole legion of the socially connected. On the other hand, anyone who requires how the washcloths are folded in the bathroom of his private jet, is clearly a little out of touch.
3. A & F competitors take advantage. “Fast fashion” retailers H&M and Forever 21 do a pretty good job of exciting fashion customers of all ages and sizes. And — no big surprise — they’ve been stealing market share from the floundering Abercrombie & Fitch. Side Note: H&M recently had positive viral PR news of their own when their recent campaign featured a plus-size model. So the lesson here is to be very aware of the digital dimension to corporate communications. Comments that may seem innocent and honest can be quickly misconstrued and take on a life of their own – to the detriment of the brand.