Abercrombie & Fitch is continuing its efforts to rebrand with the launch of the Made for You campaign, which features a host of real people hanging out on the streets of Memphis, Tempe and Austin (cities with some of the fastest growing millennial populations, said the brand). A press release paints the effort as another step toward inclusivity, and it’s certainly a more eclectic cast than we’re used to associating with the brand. The “models,” discovered via Instagram and street casting, range from Jordan, a barre instructor in Phoenix, and Jennifer, a pharmacology student in Memphis, to Ibrahim, a student at Arizona State University, and Makel, who works at a recording studio in Austin. “They all demonstrate Abercrombie & Fitch’s evolved look and attitude,” explains the release, and it’s not difficult to read between the lines here: They’re no longer subject to the cookie-cutter mold (white, blonde, blue-eyed) of the brand’s past.
What’s more, the campaign makes a pointed effort to acknowledge the elephant in the room that is Abercrombie’s transformation. Video content across the brand’s social channels will feature the cast discussing their earliest memories of Abercrombie, both positive and negative. These range from thoughts on a beloved polo shirt to frustration over a prohibitively expensive pair of pants. “There are a lot of misperceptions about our brand, specifically around fit, target customer and product offering, and we want to show the world that we have evolved,” brand president Stacia Andersen told Glossy of the thought process behind the campaign. The new Abercrombie, as the models will explain to viewers, is “well-made, great-fitting, accessibly priced and designed with [customers’] lives in mind.”
An image from Abercrombie’s Made for You campaign.
Will such overtly brand-driven jargon manage to lull consumers back into Abercrombie’s arms? Probably not on its own, but the nostalgia factor might be persuasive, especially at a time when many other companies, like Levi’s and FILA, are revisiting their roots. That, and the fact that popular designers, like Demna Gvasalia of Vetements, are recycling elements from popular ‘90s brands like Juicy Couture and Champion in their collections.
“What I like is that it’s a call across time and personal style,” said Ashwin Deshmukh, partner at Hungry, a full-service digital agency that works with clients like Garrett Leight, Sephora and Intel. “A person in Williamsburg who wore orange cargo pants in high school but now wears Khaite might have moved beyond that exact SKU, but they still have a real affinity and love for the brand. The campaign feels less like [it’s saying], ‘The company has totally rejuvenated itself,’ and more like ‘You are different now, too.’”
MaryLeigh Bliss, the chief content officer at the millennial marketing and research firm Ypulse, believes that, though it’s the right step for the company to take, they’re fairly late to the party. “It’s an expectation for young consumers now that brands should be inclusive and diverse,” she said. Indeed, data from youth research firm Cassandra shows that 74 percent of young adults ages 14-34 prefer ads that feature real people over celebrities and models.
But it will take more than “woke” marketing tactics to boost the brand’s bottom line. “They need to do something unique with the clothes themselves to get millennials to literally buy in,” said Bliss. “Quality, affordability, and uniqueness are driving millennials’ retail choices, and the product and store experience has to deliver to [win] young consumers back.”
The brand is aware of this, according to Andersen. “We have spent a great deal of time on the product; we want our customers to feel like they can live in our clothes, so design, quality, fit and finish have been re-worked for a more inclusive approach to our collections,” she said, adding that a relaxed fit has been added to their shirt offering for added comfort and the jean size range for women has been extended to a 14.
An image from Abercrombie’s Made for You campaign.
Made for You follows previous steps in the company’s effort to rebrand, including the erasure of their social accounts last October to start fresh, led by then-new creative director of marketing Ashley Sargeant Price. More recently, the company revived sister-brand Hollister’s Gilly Hicks lingerie line, opting for less-sexualized advertisements than they were previously known for.
But this marks the first time they’re addressing their complicated history so bluntly. “In doing so, I think they’re able to own the dialogue and push it beyond the most obvious critical angles — mainly, that Abercrombie is a dated, ’90s brand,” said Brady Donnelly, another partner at Hungry. “It’s really difficult to criticize a brand for being aware of its own shortcomings and making an overt, considered effort to overcome them.”
And transparency like this is vital to their target consumers. 87 percent of young adults ages 14-34 say transparency is an important quality in a brand, according to research from Cassandra. “When brands let their guard down and acknowledge the not-so-pleasant parts of their past, young consumers develop more trust in those brands and feel closer to them,” said Emily Anatole, Cassandra’s associate director of insights.