A lot has been made in the media recently about comments reportedly made by Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries about plus size women’s clothing. Aside from the fact that Jeffries doesn’t appear to have said anything specifically about plus-size clothes [I can find no evidence for him specifically using the words claimed and most stories appear to have come from an interview Retail Analyst and author Robin Lewis gave to Business Insider, and the fact that the interview being used by many media outlets to support their story was in a 2006 edition of Salon magazine, the companies focus on ‘the thin and beautiful’ appears to be little more than brand positioning.
Sure, Jeffries position on the type of customers he wants in store might be offensive and misplaced. They might, ultimately, be bad for the company image as they transition to a high-end luxury brand targeting a wider demographic than their current customer base, but in reality, they are simply a brand positioning exercise – and marketers could do worse than follow Abercrombie’s example.
Why? Because Jeffries clearly knows who his customers are – the so-called ‘thin and the beautiful’ – and his comments [albeit not those he’s accused by many of making] simply reinforce the company’s brand values [thin, and ‘beautiful’] to his target audience to those that already buy his clothes, and those that aspire to shop there – people who believe they are ‘thin and beautiful’.
You can argue his mis-guided definition of beautiful – I’m not suggesting Jeffries is accurate – but A&F’s is on display in every piece of marketing the company does. As socially unacceptable as his comments might be he isn’t worried about upsetting the wider mass market, because they’re not likely to shop at Abercrombie and Fitch. It’s actually smart brand positioning.
Other brands do exactly the same thing as A&F – just more subtly. Ferrari produces $250,000 vehicles that it knows its core customer base will buy. It does not make a $30k subcompact or a station wagon [OK, so it made one for the Sultan of Brunei]. Nor do you ever hear people complaining because they don’t make a car for the mass market. Apple’s core business for many years was high-end, high-priced personal computers for the semi- and professional customer… the list goes on. Their brand positioning and marketing are also highly targeted to the people that buy its products and those that aspire to own them.
Mike Jeffries comments from 2006 are also a welcome reinforcement that in the era of the real-time internet, everything you say can be easily found and be revisited at any time and used against you. This might cause the company problems if, as reports suggest, it has a plan to transition to a broader high-end luxury fashion brand with a broader potential customer base but, if he’s as skilled a brand manager as he appears, it’s unlikely.