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The "Situation" with Abercrombie & Fitch, Jersey Shore and More

By (view all posts by pmiller)
at 6:57AM Thursday August 18, 2011
under Newsworthy

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.


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.