Following hot on the heels of our article about Vogue’s recent spat with fashion bloggers and how this might indicate a growing split between long-established brands and the new generation of social media influencers is another fashion-oriented article – this time, Abercrombie & Fitch is under the spotlight.
Unless you’re a regular Abercrombie customer or you follow it on social media, you probably haven’t noticed that it has undergone a complete rebranding. It’s likely that you know about the way the company used to target customers, though. Moody black-and-white shots of young men and women with abs you can crack a coconut open on, pitch-black stores blasting the top 40, and the stench of old money cologne invading the nostrils all helped to sell Abercrombie as an aspirational brand. It came across a bit like a casualwear-focused Brooks Brothers for the 16-25 market – a preppy, WASP-inspired label with roots on the East Coast that screamed “all-American” in every new piece it put on its shelves. Above all, it looked elitist.
It’s not difficult to see, therefore, why this branding strategy hasn’t had long-term success. Attitudes in young people, both socially and culturally, have changed. In the wake of (more affordably priced) rivals celebrating inclusivity and diversity as opposed to catering to the privileged few, Abercrombie’s sales fell dramatically from 2012 to 2015. Is it any surprise that the average teen might look into the window of Abercrombie and think, “That’s not for me”?
It was clear to everyone that things needed to change before Abercrombie became completely irrelevant in the eyes of its target market. Here’s what it did.
- Bring in new blood
When you’re looking to shake things up, you often need to bring in some fresh eyes to help see the things you can’t. With that in mind, the first significant thing Abercrombie did was to hire Ashley Sargent Price away from J. Crew to become its Creative Director of Marketing across all brands (including Hollister and abercrombie kids). Counting stints with Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie and Gap among her previous experience, Price is well-versed in the strategies and marketing campaigns that drive sales in this sector.
- Clear out social media posts
This is a move that is increasingly being employed by brands looking to wipe the slate clean (in every sense). In order to give as much publicity to the rebrand as possible, Price presided over a clearout of all Abercrombie social media channels – when you’ve got three million Instagram followers, this is exactly the sort of thing that acts as a statement of intent. All that was left on the Instagram channel was a series of images that said “People have a lot to say about us. They think they’ve got us figured out.” If that doesn’t whet the appetite and get tongues wagging, what will?
- Invest in multi-channel advertising
Abercrombie then launched its new website and advertising campaign across the same weekend early in October. Gone were the brooding, solo shirtless men – they were replaced by images of (clothed) groups of friends, smiling, laughing and having fun. These images were slowly drip-fed onto the social channels, with the hashtag #ThisIsAbercrombie used on Twitter to highlight the new brand direction. Additionally, a new advert which explicitly ran through the changes Abercrombie has made was released online:
If you weren’t clear about the rebrand before, you are now: this is a grown-up brand which is comfortable in its own skin and doesn’t need to be seen as the “cool kid” to carve out a niche for itself. Further steps, such as new heritage lines and store redesigns, are also part of the Abercrombie overhaul – it’s not just online that’s being addressed here.
However, actions speak louder than words. Effectively, Abercrombie is positioning itself as a completely new company with no evidence of the negativity it had previously been perceived as perpetuating, but any company trying to emulate it must back its statements up with appropriate initiatives. Abercrombie might be trying to sell itself as friendly and inclusive, but it has a long way to go. Its sizing is still quite restrictive and the models are still the same kind of people – they’re just more covered up than they previously had been. Addressing this sort of thing will really convince customers that the company has turned over a new leaf. It’s about doing, as well as showing.
Though it appears that the company has begun doing the right things to succeed as a youth-oriented brand in 2016, it obviously remains to be seen whether this rebranding strategy results in an increase in sales and Abercrombie returning to the top bracket of youth fashion. Quarterly sales figures are due to be released on November 17th, but it’s in the long-term that the results of Abercrombie’s new direction will be determined.
Ultimately, while a rebranding in line with a new set of operating principles is fine if you feel your company needs it, it must be backed up with actions and initiatives. A rebrand goes much deeper than an Instagram cull – if you remember that and demonstrate to your customers that you’re serious about your new direction, your strategy has a much higher chance of success.
Which principles would you add to a rebranding strategy? What else should companies like Abercrombie be considering to ensure their tactics succeed? Let us know via @RocketMill.