A&F Case Study

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The highly competitive fashion business demands that companies be extremely inventive in their promotion strategies. Mass-market brands targeted to youth audiences sometimes choose provocative and controversial ways of brand promotion. Calvin Klein, FCUK, Benetton, Diesel – all these brands are famous for their controversial and provocative advertising. Established in 1892, Abercrombie & Fitch started as an upscale brand of sports outfit. Its clients' list included Theodore Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway. After passing through a serious crisis in the '80s and a bankruptcy, it was bought by The Limited, Inc., the company that owns Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works and La Senza, etc. When Mike Jeffries, an ambitious manager, came in as chief executive in 1992, the company had 20 U.S. stores, a handful of outlets in Canada and was losing $25-million a year selling classic, "frumpy" preppy styles. Jeffries proposed an unexpected plan of brand restoration and Abercrombie turned to "casual luxury" for college students. The promotion strategy targeted college students 18-22 years old and primarily used provocative sexual content and images. This strategy led to quick and successful promotion among the target audience. Abercrombie was rated as the second coolest brand after Nike. The photos from the A&F Quarterly catalog were the No.1 choice for wall decoration in college dorms. The sales grew rapidly. At the same time, American society actively reacted against Abercrombie, organizing numerous boycotts and protests. This resulted in sales decrease and lots of negative publications in the U.S. mass media. After almost 10 years of provocation and discriminatory issues, in 2006 Abercrombie turned to less controversial strategy and, as one of the most successful mass market brands in the U.S., began to expand into the international market. During the 10 years of the company's renovation, the share price increased from $16 to $80 . This case study is aimed at analyzing the crises caused by Abercrombie's provocative promotion strategy and their consequences.

2Fashion advertising in ‘90s
Abercrombie & Fitch was not the first company that used provocative concepts in its advertising. The period of the ‘90s was famous for several advertising campaigns of youth brands that shocked the public and promoted controversial ideas. In the ‘90s, Oliviero Toscani – a creative director for Benetton – created a series of advertising campaigns featuring such images as a priest kissing a nun, newborn baby with its umbilical cord unsevered, a man dying of AIDS and a bloody uniform of a Bosnian soldier. In 1993, Calvin Klein launched the famous campaign featuring Kate Moss. This campaign promoted the heroin chic – a look characterized by pale skin, dark circles underneath the eyes, and jutting bones. The trend continued in 1995, when Klein started the promotion, which used images of models who were reportedly as young as 15, and was meant to mimic "picture set" pornography of the '60s. In April 1997, French Connection clothing brand began branding their clothes "fcuk". They fully exploited this and produced an extremely popular range of t-shirts with messages such as "fcuk this", "hot as fcuk", "mile high fcuk", "lucky fcuk", "Fun Comes Usually Kneeling", "fcuk on the beach", etc. As a result of this campaign, the company reported a 27% jump in profits in 1998. In 1991, Diesel - an Italian brand – launched its new campaign with the slogan "For successful living", which featured everything from homosexual sailors to Africa as an international superpower. Unlike French Connection and Benetton, Diesel received little negative feedback. The campaign won numerous prizes at Cannes Lions Festival, Epica and Eurobest. The company also received the Premio Risultat award in 1996 from the Bocconi Institute in Milan, for "Best Italian Company of the Year".

The label "Abercrombie & Fitch" dates back to 1892, when David...
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