My scorpio trait of loyalty has always been evident in my choosing of the brands that I follow (Apple and not Windows or Android, Starbucks and not Pete’s Coffee). In high school this sharp decisiveness led me to always buy Abercrombie & Fitch, not even daring to enter an American Eagle store. However while walking through various subway stations this holiday season, American Eagle’s “We All Can” campaign caught my attention.
As The Business of Fashion offers, American Eagle has “always been a very positive brand, very inclusive, very friendly and nice, but didn’t have an ownable image.” There has always been something timid, safe, and truthfully boring about the brand, never trying to attract too much attention like its counterpart Abercrombie & Fitch. That worked for the teens who in the early 2000s just wanted to conform. However teen-shoppers have changed. They won’t let you tell them what to say or what to do.
AE has caught on to this insight and arrived at the realization that diversity is not just skin deep, and has provided teens with an outlet to tell us what they think. As the global brand president of American Eagle, Chad Kessler, offers: "#WeAllCan is a new brand platform that celebrates Young America's unique voice and individuality. #WeAllCan is an invitation for Young America to follow their passions and share what they can do, be, and create.”
While I think AE’s strategy was a good start, it failed to use this insight to its true potential. When I glance at one of the #WeAllCan ads, part of me wants to tell these kids to sit down, that they are silly and naive. Yet part of me wants to go back to my childhood, and be as brave as they are. Therein lies the most significant insight. As Refinary 29 editor notes, the campaign “celebrates how powerful, opinionated, and generally badass millennials are.” This requires a lot of bravery. Bravery is something that I find more and more challenging to find within me as I get older and morph into a full-fledged adult. It is something that is hard to come by, and it is something that we need more of specially as we embark on a Trump presidency.
I would have liked for AE to be a little more real. Of course ‘we all can’, but it requires a lot courage. AE should have used their platform to recognize this truth, and encourage both young and old to never give up their bravery.
Abercrombie & Fitch on the other hand has completely gone bonkers, and completely missed the mark with its latest spots. They seem to have little to no clue on who they are or who their target audience is, and it is safe to say that it has lost its soul. One spot claims “they think they’ve got us figured out” and “this is Abercrombie & Fitch,” but by the end of the spot you are still left wondering. The brand comes off as ashamed of its past, and wants to put forward a soft-sexy, timid, cutesy image; but all you are left with is an unauthentic taste in your mouth.
Another ad is completely cheesy. In the ad we are introduced to Ryder Evan Robinson, and illustrator who has collaborated with A&F to showcase his illustrations on t-shirts for the brand. While his life’s story is great, it has nothing to with the brand. Robinson notes that he knows what it is to“get back to their roots” but this guy has nothing to do with the brand’s roots. Furthermore, let us remember that A&F used to be an aspirational brand. Robinson doesn’t bring me confidence, nor does he make me want to wear A&F’s clothes. He doesn’t even seem to be wearing clothes befitting of the brands aesthetic. Once again the brand comes off as inauthentic, and beyond this, the heteronormative and patriarchal storyline is completely out of touch with the zeitgeist of our generation.
Abercrombie & Fitch was sexy, worry-less, ethereal, and controversial. It completely changed the way everyone wanted to dress. Furthermore, as Alex Frank writes in Why I’'m Somewhat Nostalgic For The Old Abercrombie & Fitch, “even if the old Abercrombie didn't always encourage the best impulses in my adolescent life, at least it incited something. To want to be somebody is at the very core of American capitalism. We shop to become the person we hope we are, dress for the job we want, and Abercrombie sparked those kinds of feelings in me, waking me up to the possibility of different ways to live and present myself.”
I think Abercrombie can still be all those things, with a positive brand image. Trust me, while the woods are cool, no young urban professional wants to look like the lumberjacks in A&F's latest spots. Abercrombie should embrace its sexy and controversial past in a way that is relevant to today’s consumer; and not in a way that will add to a negative brand image, as did the 2013 allegations that the brand didn’t want overweight people to wear its clothes. This only fueled the fire of negativity surrounding the brand, eventually leading its suicide. Had I been part of the Abercrombie & Fitch brand strategy team, I would have used the brand’s platform to discuss the real issue. Sure, not wanting overweight people to wear your brand might be a reason for not offering extended sizing, but so can not encouraging the lifestyle decisions that has led to the evident weight epidemic in our nation. I would have used this controversy to elevate the brand’s image, and propose initiatives that could help alleviate this epidemic. For example, the lack of fitness or healthy food in many communities in the U.S.. What if Abercrombie had used this opportunity to donate funds to build more parks for adolescents to partake in a more active lifestyle, or donate funds to schools in impoverished communities that lack the resources to provide healthy meals to students?
Consumers now more than ever are interested in fitness, health, and image. Just ask Equinox. Abercrombie’s sexy past can still be relevant to today’s consumer, in a way that its current amorphous identity is not.