Abercrombie’s Offensive Ads: Controversy is Smart Business

We don’t get angry at Lane Bryant for only offering plus-sized clothing for women. We don’t criticize them for not catering to “skinny people.”

We don’t get angry at Justice for only offering clothing for tween girls. We don’t criticize them for not catering to boys… or babies… or adults.

So why is everybody up in arms over Abercrombie & Fitch targeting young people of ordinary size? Why do we care if they don’t offer a woman’s pants size larger than 10?

And are we really insisting that clothing stores ought to cater to everybody regardless of size, gender, or fashion sense?

Abercrombie’s CEO Mike Jeffries makes his position clear in a 2006 interview with Salon magazine:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told the site. “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,” he told Salon.

I understand why Jeffries’ comments may be offensive to the average person, but I can’t disagree with his marketing strategy.

This is the same marketing strategy ThinkGeek uses. Their target market is geeks — not cool kids! But nobody is up in arms over this. I guess it’s still socially acceptable to sell to geeks.

But try to sell to “cool kids” and everybody is ready to blow a gasket.

Average people see the world the way they want it to be… rather than the way it actually is. But it’s the marketer’s job to understand what people really want and offer them that. And the truth is, people want to own things that other people can’t have.

Jeffries knows this, and Abercrombie is capitalizing on it.

It may not be socially acceptable, but it’s smart business.

Am I missing something here?

-Ryan M. Healy

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Ryan Healy

Ryan Healy is a freelance copywriter, list manager, and the author of Speed Writing for Nonfiction Writers. Since 2002, he has worked with scores of clients, including Agora Financial, Lombardi Publishing, and Contrarian Profits. He writes a popular blog about copywriting, advertising, and business growth, has been featured in publications like Feed Front magazine, and has been published on sites like WordStream.com, SmallBizClub.com, and MarketingForSuccess.com.

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