Sarah Baas


Abercrombie and Fitch Kills the Moose – Will Ditching its Logo Save the Brand?

If you were a teen growing up a decade ago, chances that you remember Abercrombie and Fitch as being the epitome of cool are fairly high. The sex-meets-Ivy League aesthetic of the brand and its logo-clad hoodies and tees marked the style of a generation of high school students.

In those glory days, Abercrombie’s concept stood out among retailers: The stores were dimly lit and blasting music, employees were called “models” instead of store associates, the scent of Abercrombie’s signature scent “Fierce” filled the air… It didn’t matter that this penetrating odor would stick to a new purchase for days, nor that the poor lighting conditions made it virtually impossible to decipher any tags or logos – it only added to the brand’s mystery .

But those days are long gone. Abercrombie and Fitch has slowly but steadily fallen out of fashion. Driven by a change in youth culture which places self-expression above conformity and fuelled by a stream of controversies that have harmed the public image of the brand, the company has seen a constant decline in popularity and sales.

In order to turn the brand around, the company has decided to take a radical step: As of spring 2015, all logos shall be banned from apparel sold in the US. “In the spring season, we’re looking to take the North American logo business to practically nothing,” CEO Mike Jeffries announced on Thursday commenting on the company’s quarterly results. No more moose. No more A&F. Instead, a new, sleek, contemporary aesthetic.

Too soon for rebranding

While the shedding of logos is certainly a step in the right direction, there are indications that it may be too late, or rather too soon, to rebrand the struggling business.

When Abercrombie and Fitch first emerged as a brand in the 1990s, it had been around for almost a century. Limited Brands bought the antiquated sporting goods retailer and Mike Jeffries, a so-called visionary obsessed with youth culture and style, resurrected it and turned it into a sought-after lifestyle brand. Jeffries’ vision of “cool” resonated well with teenagers at the turn of the millennium and was a major driving force behind Abercrombie’s success. But the CEO’s outlook was myopic. It did not see the evident change that was starting to take place in teenagers’ lives. Driven by the internet and the power of social media, teenagers began to create their own lifestyles instead of aspiring to one that was readily handed to them. A few years into the 00’s, a brand such as Abercrombie and Fitch no longer had a place in young shoppers’ lives.

Last year, Abercrombie and Fitch was the delivered the ultimate death-blow when quotes from an old interview surfaced online in which Jeffries said the brand targeted only cool, good-looking people. ‘We go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely,” Jeffries stated. At the time when the interview was recorded, some loyal brand enthusiasts might have agreed with this insensitive statement but in the age of social media it was an invitation to riot. The damage to the brand could not be repaired.

With this in mind, It is highly doubtful that banning the logo alone can save Abercrombie’s brand. Marketers know that a strong brand is regarded to evoke both a high level of brand awareness and strong, favourable and unique brand associations. While Abercrombie and Fitch still enjoys a high level of familiarity among its target, it’s brand associations have drastically shifted from “cool, young and spirited ” to “overpriced, pretentious and conformist”. Turning these around this will take more than a change of design, it will take a change from the company within, if not an entirely new generation of customers.

Maybe Abercrombie and Fitch would be best advised to let the brand sink into oblivion once more, and resurrect it only when a sweet air of nostalgia clings to its name. Brands that have been successful with this strategy are New Balance, the legendary 80s and 90s footwear brand which made a major comeback in 2012, and J. Crew which was once synonymous with conservative, preppy style and recently reinvented itself in a fresh take. However, both companies were patient and waited until a new generation of customers had emerged that would give their brand an entirely new meaning. We shall wait until next spring to see whether Abercrombie’s new, logo-free design will be the beginning of a new era for the brand.


The Primark Scandal: Guerilla Marketing at its Best?

It is certainly not the first time that UK high street giant Primark is making headlines with its allegedly unethical production conditions – but suspicion arises that in the case of the “cry for help” labels recently found inside Primark clothing things may not quite be what they seem…

Last week, the story of a young mother from Northern Ireland surfaced, who claimed to have found a handwritten note reading “SOS! SOS! SOS!” in a pair of Primark jeans. She said she bought the trousers from the high street retailer in 2011, but never wore them. Only when cleaning out her wardrobe, did she stumble across the message. According to the woman, the note was hidden in the back pocket of the jeans and wrapped around a Chinese prison identity card. Upon discovery, she sent the garment to Amnesty International who deciphered the rest of the message as a plea for help from inmates at the Xiangnan prison in Hubei, China: “We work 15 hours per day and the food we eat wouldn’t even be given to dogs or pigs.”

Meanwhile, two other women have come forward claiming they found similar notes reading “forced to work exhausting hours” and “degrading sweatshop conditions” in Swansea, Wales. Primark promptly responded denying any allegations of forced labour at any of its production plants. The retailer also raised suspicion concerning the authenticity of the notes.


Since then, more doubts have arisen in relation to the origins of the notes. Many suspect the story might, in fact, be a mere Guerilla Marketing stunt invented by human rights activists. And although poor working conditions are a widely recognised problem in the textile industry, there is evidence that this might indeed be a cleverly planned and executed attack on Primark:

  • The “cry for help” messages all appeared at the same time – what are the odds?
  • All three notes surfaced in the UK, two of them in Swansea, despite Primark operating internationally – again, what are the odds?
  • The two notes found in Swansea bear a striking resemblance to each other, although the two garments were manufactured in different countries
  • Additionally they are written in English, despite many workers being illiterate
  • Primark claims the jeans with the “SOS” note were last sold in 2009, while the woman claims she bought them in 2011
  • Primark also says the products bought in Swansea had last been carried in store in 2013, while media reports suggest they were bought only recently

What do you think? Are these notes a genuine cry for help or could they be Guerilla Marketing at its best? And if so, who is the mastermind behind all of this?


Maybe it does not even really matter – neither for Primark nor for the potential campaign creators. Since Primark has never been about social sustainability, but always about price, it has no reputation to loose. And if genuine or not, the notes have fulfilled their purpose in that they have once again shed light onto the issue of poor working conditions – an issue affecting the entire textile industry but often ignored when dazzled by a pocket friendly price tag that seems too good to be true.

Mr Porter: Getting Down to Business in Canary Wharf

If you’ve recently ventured into London’s Canary Wharf district, home to the glitzy world of finance, professional services firms and men in dark suits, you will most certainly have noticed that the area’s tube station has been given a fashionable make-over. Mr Porter, the UK-based online destination for luxury men’s fashion and lifestyle goods, has taken over the reign and covered the busy transport hub with 70 images of its latest advertising campaign. Walls, columns, screens and even escalator fins and exit barriers are now adorned with the retailer’s logo and the season’s hottest trends. Adding to the campaign’s sleek black and white aesthetic are famous style quotes from authors such as Orson Welles and Oscar Wilde.

Going to Where the Customers Are

It is no coincidence that Mr Porter selected Canary Wharf Tube Station as its campaign site. Not only do the hub’s enormous dimensions provide the ideal setting for the campaign’s larger-than-life creative work. But there is probably no other place in London for the online retailer to target its customer more effectively. 1.2 million commuters are travelling through Canary Wharf every week, many of whom are affluent, time-starved male customers who cannot spare the time to shop in a physical store, but do have the resources to splurge on a Brioni suit online. Mr Porter’s campaign does a perfect job in reminding them that their next purchase may be just one click on a long train ride away.

It’s All About Geo-Targeting

For an online pure play born in the digital age, in which less and less advertising budget gets allocated towards traditional media, creating such an elaborate geo-targeted ad campaign may seem somewhat unconventional. However, it might prove a very effective strategy for Mr Porter and could indeed set an example for other online businesses to follow suit.

Even though geo-targeting is now mainly associated with IP addresses and online ads, Mr Porter’s campaign shows that a precise location-based approach still works in the offline world – maybe better than ever. Indeed, in a time where customers are exposed to several thousand ads per day, a targeted message in a real-life environment that leaves no room for escape can be more effective than trying to break through the clutter in the digital space. Naturally, location and timing have to be well selected, and Mr Porter has done a terrific job in choosing both. By exposing the rushing commuters in Canary Wharf to its campaign twice a day through four consecutive weeks, the online retailer ensures that its brand becomes a fixture in their daily routine and maybe even in their mindset.

Of course, Mr Porter has not completely abandoned digital marketing techniques altogether, but instead developed an integrated marketing concept to support the ads in Canary Wharf. This includes geo-targeted display advertising and search in the surrounding areas. However, the bold black and white images remain at the core of the campaign.

We shall wait and see whether Mr Porter will share any information on the campaign’s success. Will the investment pay off? Will the campaign push sales? And most importantly: Will all employees in Canary Wharf wear Mr Porter from now on?