A&F: Selling Sex and Hiring Hotties
Abercrombie and Fitch, also known as A&F is an American fashion brand targeting youth with its casual prep and jock outfits. With more than 400 shops in America, it continues to expand globally. Over recent years A&F has stirred up controversy for not stocking XL and XXL sizes for women’s clothing, a reflection of the company’s exclusive and often alienating approach to fashion.
The controversy has been further fuelled by its outspoken ex-CEO who has explicitly stated that he doesn’t want overweight and unattractive people shopping in his stores, fearing it would undermine the brand’s reputation as clothing for the aesthetically elite. Despite the company’s often scandalous public attitude, I personally think that A&F’s marketing ploys are ingenious.
If you walk past any A&F store, you can’t possibly miss the blown-up posters of its models showcasing their perfectly sculpted six packs and strategically low-ridden jeans. A&F understands and takes full advantages of the notion that “sex sells” with its overtly sexualised posters and promotional videos.
According to Daily Mail reporter, research has revealed that “seeing an attractive man or woman in an advert excites areas of the brain that make us buy on impulse, bypassing the sections which control rational thought.”
A&F took it to the next level by selecting forty of their best looking models from their stores around the world in countries such as America, Italy, England, France, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Belgium and Japan to become “topless” greeters during their first store opening in Singapore in December 2011. The models were clad in nothing but a pair of red trousers and brown leather thongs. Shoppers were able to queue up to take pictures with the models before entering the store. Some people went to great lengths, queuing up as early as 7 am to snap a photo with the models. Admittedly, I was one of those borderline obsessive girls who lined up early in the morning, sacrificing both my sleep and breakfast just to get a glimpse of these ‘alpha male’ dreamboats. It was a great success, creating a herculean amount of hype around the brand.
In a 2006 interview with Salon, former A&F CEO Mike Jeffries affirmed that attractive people were a foundational element of Fitch’s marketing strategy. Accordingly, A&F only hires good-looking people in their stores because “good-looking people attract other good-looking people”, and the company has never been shy about their goal in marketing to cool, physically attractive people. As such, this segmentation is important to Fitch’s success allowing it to carve out a very specific niche in the market.
“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.” – Mike Jeffries
Many people, teenagers in particular, are in phases of self-discovery in their lives, trying to gain a greater grasp of their own identity. A&F seduces millennials with the idea of being preppy and cool, gaining recognition from peers by either working in A&F stores or wearing their apparel.
Image by Pete D
A&F’s hiring criteria actually engages more teens due to its elusive “cool kids” image, somewhat akin to the allure of the Victoria’s Secret Angels. As superficial as it may sound, I was once fixated on nailing a job at A&F because it seemed extremely glamorous, satisfying my ego by fitting into the “popular and good-looking” A&F clan.
On my interview day, the guys were dressed to impress with their hair styled and gelled while the girls were desperately preening themselves before the interview began. The interview process was difficult and we were informed that it would be filmed and have our photos taken.
I was offered a position as a ‘stylist’ at A&F. Because A&F rarely hires celebrities to endorse their clothing line, associates in the store are effectively given the roles of celebrities, becoming brand ambassadors and visual manifestations of A&F. I only came to realise how effective Mike Jeffries’ decrees actually were when I was approached by tween shoppers on several occasions. They adopted my fashion advice as nuggets of pure gold and bombarded me with questions regarding job applications despite the legal age to work at A&F being 18.
FIERCE Cologne. Image by skinnypictures
THE IN-STORE EXPERIENCE
Every A&F stores exhibits three very distinctive physical attributes: dim lighting, the enveloping scent of Fitch’s signature fragrance “FIERCE” and loud clubbing music. Many companies rely heavily on visual product packaging, advertising and store design to encompass their marketing footprint, the design of A&F stores cover three out of the five stimuli in the human sensory system – sight, smell and sound. Shoppers start to develop strong conceptions of the A&F brand through receiving, selecting and interpreting stimuli to form meaningful connections and associations.
A&F deliberately chooses to use dim lighting so that customers can focus on the clothes without distraction. During my stint at A&F, I was usually in charge of the visual displays and aesthetics in the shop, ensuring that the clothes were well-displayed, perfume samples neatly aligned and other important visual details – that seemed insignificant at the time but were in fact pivotal in the overall store appearance – were in place.
It is insane to think that even months after quitting my job at A&F, I still find people wearing “FIERCE” exude more confidence, are manlier and sexier.
Header image credit: Choo Yut Shing