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Where once there was dark lighting, loud music, and heavily scented interiors, there is now a friendlier, better lit, calmer environment. Where once they featured naked, perfectly sculpted models, there are now advertisements starring more conventional looking models, all of them wearing both shirts and bottoms. Millennials shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch today thus might be excused for wondering whether it is the same retailer whose hip logos they sported so proudly when they were in high school.

The shift represents a response to dwindling sales by the brand, a trend that emerged as consumers began to reject the notion that they needed to worry about looking like the models in the marketing communications. For today’s young consumers, a pressure-laden image to be perfect is perhaps less appealing than alternative images that are more inclusive. In particular, public service campaigns against the spread of bullying made Abercrombie & Fitch’s insistent valorization of extremely thin and attractive models seem more problematic. As young consumers came to believe that inclusiveness was appealing, the snobbish appeal of Abercrombie & Fitch lost its power.

Abercrombie & Fitch’s sibling brand Hollister—which targets the younger versions of the same customers who eventually might shop at Abercrombie & Fitch—made a similar shift, even a little earlier than its big sibling. For example, its advertising campaigns have explicitly taken antibullying stances, encouraging young teens to find ways to fight back against and avoid bullying threats.

The company’s response involves not just its advertising but also its store and product designs. The infamous Abercrombie & Fitch logo has largely disappeared from tops sold in the stores, and the clothing designs are less risqué than some of the revealing products that teens once fought their parents to wear. In stores, though the company’s signature scent continues to waft out into the mall, the intensity has been cut by about half, even as the lights have been turned up to about twice the level they used to maintain.

As this multiyear transition continues, Abercrombie & Fitch is “like a teen culling her Instagram posts after a breakup.” Previous marketing campaigns and pictures are being taken down from its social media sites, deleted so that no one can find them easily. In addition, the retailer is seeking new models from among its 3 million Instagram followers.

Discussion Question: 

  1. Why did Abercrombie & Fitch change its “friendly” image? How has it sought to do so?
  2. How do you expect this change to affect Abercrombie & Fitch’s financial performance?

Source: Elizabeth Holmes, The Wall Street Journal, October 12, 2016.