After four quarters of declining profits, Abercrombie & Fitch is testing a revolutionary new strategy to win shoppers back: being nice for a change.
Buzzfeed reports that the brand has majorly changed the way it describes itself on its website and in quarterly reports. Gone are snooty references to “East Coast traditions and Ivy League heritage,” and its self-description as “sexy,” “idolized,” and “the essence of privilege.” (Not coincidentally, these sound exactly like how your high school's Regina George would describe herself.) Instead, Abercrombie now claims its clothes represent "adventure," "great taste," and “the next generation of effortless, all-American style.” If that sounds way less jocks-and-mean-girls to you, that's no accident.
Abercrombie has always blatantly evoked high school hierarchies in its branding — this is the company whose former CEO, Mike Jeffries, stated that his clothes were for "cool kids" only, and was responsible for bon mots like "Abercrombie is only interested in people with washboard stomachs who look like they’re about to jump on a surfboard.” Its brand imagery backed that assertion with countless black-and-white photos of romping teen titans, those six-packs in full view. Abercrombie's vision of high school was a perpetual, soft-core Chris Isaak video, and it was beautiful people only — no swirlie recipients allowed.
But now, amidst lagging sales, the brand is radically shifting its image to something more accessible — from making those language tweaks, to ditching the ubiquitous ab photos, to pledging to reduce its stores' anxiety-inducing smell. It's a very different Abercrombie than the one you coveted (or loathed) sophomore year.
But, will the nice-ification of Abercrombie strip it of its power? When you take away those PTSD-inducing high school memories and sexy-snooty branding, you're left with hoodies and skinny jeans that look pretty similar to those on offer at every other teen-marketed retailer. A&F may have finally decided that you can sit with them. But, with brands like Gap serving all-American prep so well, and stores like Uniqlo providing more affordable basics, the question is: Will shoppers still want to?