The “Situation” with Abercrombie & Fitch, Jersey Shore and More

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Photo courtesy of Sam Davyson, via Flickr

Earlier in the week, Abercrombie & Fitch made the bold marketing decision to offer to pay Jersey Shore’s “The Situation” to not wear the company’s clothes on television. This may be the first recorded instance of reverse product placement. Just days before that, Abercrombie banned a customer for buying too much Abercrombie clothing. This could very well be the world’s first reverse customer loyalty program.

While the company has since lifted the ban on that customer, this is not an isolated event. In fact, Abercrombie & Fitch has had more PR missteps than just about anyone else, including Nazi & Sons, a company I just made up.

Read on to find out some of Abercrombie’s most shocking fails.

Abercrombie & Discrimination & Fitch

Abercrombie is no stranger to the discrimination lawsuit. In fact, a simple Google search of “Abercrombie & Fitch + discrimination” will yield so many results that your computer will die. Really.

Here are some highlights:

The examples go on and on. Stranger still, this is the same company that in 2003 was awarded the Nobel Prize in Classiness.

The Push-Up Bikini…for Kids

As Allegra covered in a post from March, Abercrombie caught some flak after they began selling a push-up bikini top in their Abercrombie Kids line, which is intended for kids between the ages of seven and fourteen. The Internet did not take kindly to this.

However, Abercrombie did not remove the offending product. Instead, they opted to just change the name from “push-up” to “padded.” Because apparently padded bikinis for seven year-olds are just dandy.

Since the time of that post, Abercrombie changed the “market” for its bikini top from seven-to-fourteen to twelve-and-up, though the sizing remains the same.

A NSFW Christmas

In 2003, Abercrombie & Fitch were criticized for putting out a catalog-magazine hybrid that featured photography that was a little too sexually suggestive for their teen customer base. The catalog had the innocuous name, “The Christmas Field Guide.”

In Abercrombie’s defense, the catalog was not given out for free. Buyers had to be at least eighteen years of age, and had to present valid ID when they bought the thing for an absurd $7.

But The Christmas Field Guide was pretty smutty. Among countless photographs with partial nudity and implied sex, there were little articles which covered topics such as “How to have discreet sex in a movie theater.”

After the perfunctory public outrage, Abercrombie quietly pulled the catalog from its stores.

Bonus Racism: T-Shirt Edition

In 2002, a few years before all those racial discrimination lawsuits, Abercrombie & Fitch attracted some negative press after they released a series of shirts featuring insulting Asian caricatures. These t-shirts featured 19th century, “Yellow Peril”-style cartoons of Asian people, accompanied by little puns like “Wong Brothers Laundry Service: Two Wongs Can Make it White.”

In typical Abercrombie fashion, the company did not relent at the first sign of criticism. One store manager defended the line, saying that the first kid to buy a shirt had the last name of Wong. He did not, however, reveal how he had this information.

And, also in typical Abercrombie fashion, the company eventually relented, removing the offending shirts from their stores.

Aftermath

It isn’t clear whether these apparent missteps are in fact part of a larger “any-press-is-good-press” company policy. After all, can a company that successful really be that inept?

It turns out the answer is probably “Yes.” The day after they publicly insulted The Situation, Abercrombie stock fell 5%. A look at Abercrombie’s numbers shows they’ve been struggling over the years, but it isn’t clear whether this has anything to do with their history of gaffs. It’s also possible the culprit is Abercrombie’s reputation of being over-priced.

Please share your thoughts, and your favorite Abercrombie-isms, in the comments.

Comments (13)

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  1. SavingsIQ

    3 years ago

    No wonder their stock is taking a hit. Really, Abercrombie? What’s up with your “Fitchuation” t-shirt? This company used to be cool, but I won’t even walk into their stores now. What kind of message are they sending to young kids by selling push-up bikinis to 7 year olds? Lame.

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  2. iwerner

    3 years ago

    wow, that’s crazy. I liked their stuff in college, but they were always overpriced. I think American Eagle has the same styles for less. Also, Abercrombie changed their store appearance in the past few years. They have half naked, guys and girls greeting people at the door and a dark club like atmosphere in the stores. I’m usually shopping with my 5 year old and I don’t wanna take her to places like that.

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  3. Allegra.Ringo

    3 years ago

    Haha, they’re even worse than I thought! I only knew about maybe half of these, and I already thought they were bad at PR. This isn’t a PR misstep, but I can’t handle that overwhelming cologne smell that I’m convinced they purposely pump through the ventilation system. It gives me a headache every time I walk by one of their stores.

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  4. Cmelrose

    3 years ago

    No one in California wears their clothing anyway except the people that want to look like the people in their ads.

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  5. GuyCopes

    3 years ago

    They promote tanned, half-dressed, muscular, in-shape people outside their stores, but hate it when meat-head tanned, half-dressed, muscular reality stars wear their clothes? Mmmkay. I’ll stick with my Affliction and Marc Ecko gear.

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  6. Kenny01

    3 years ago

    Reading the article reminded me of this shirt from Urban that said, “Eat Less.”

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/06/03/eat-less-urban-outfitters_n_598904.html

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  7. Susan.Yoo-Lee

    3 years ago

    They say good publicity, bad publicity is all pretty much good publicity because we are obviously talking about them and bringing attention to them one way or another. I remember when they created those series of shirts that were well, not so nice to us asian folks and created a huge stir in the asian community. Needless to say, they are bringing attention to themselves and gaining publicity and they are still in business. Maybe it’s intentional?

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  8. ChuckG

    3 years ago

    The store is so loud you can’t talk to anybody. My son grew out of A&E and moved on to better brands. I never really got into the clothing, made for size 0.

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  9. Allegra.Ringo

    3 years ago

    @SavingsMommie – I wouldn’t be surprised if they embrace their controversy because they subscribe to the “all publicity is good publicity” school of thought. I really dislike that sentiment – it seems like a way to justify unseemly or even unethical things in the name of publicity.

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  10. rmoritz

    3 years ago

    I just had to be the first person to type “ROFL!!!” The truth is, I totally see where they are coming from. One your brand gets taken a different direction than where all your product and marketing dollars are going, it can mean death. I wonder if Ed Hardy actually did the opposite and paid the JS dudes to wear their bedazzled tighty tees?

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  11. pmiller

    3 years ago

    @dealtown @ChuckG Yeah, I’d never shop there just because the store is so unpleasant. I don’t know how people put up with all that noise and cologne stench.

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  12. AlisonGary

    3 years ago

    Back in the ’90s I worked for Limited Corp when Abecrombie was still part of them. As soon as they got too big for their Limited Corp britches and went solo they started getting so crazy and controversial. I miss the days of quality clothing, pub-like stores and great service. Now they are just a hot mess. We may be talking about them, but it’s still not helping their stock prices. :(

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