The story of Abercrombie & Fitch's quest to rebrand itself has been a long, extensive one. There have been new hires (including a vice president of design and a creative director of marketing), new merchandise, and a new logo. On a larger scale, it's involved strategic decisions to move away from overly sexualized marketing and become more inclusive in its hiring at every level — and it's also involved just, well, being nicer. The brand can't technically turn back the clock, but it can start fresh on social media. And that's exactly what it did yesterday: On Thursday, the number of posts on the @abercrombie Instagram profile dwindled all the way down to only one photo, Digiday reported. "People have a lot to say about us," the single image read. "They think they've got us figured out." That's a new approach to Abercrombie's historically in-your-face messaging — but, to its 3.1 million followers, it's quite a blank slate.
Throughout the rest of the day, the brand populated its now-vacant profile with collaged images from its new lookbook. With each caption, Abercrombie & Fitch made its intentions clear: "To a brand new day," "Something more you," "Something more natural," "Wouldn't it be nice...to try something new?" The company bills this relaunch as "a redefined brand identity," which is accompanied by its "largest-ever advertising campaign" timed to the holidays. It's a tailoring of the brand's history and heritage to what it considers a modern consumer — complete with a new website, a new campaign, a new set of billboards, and a new social presence. According to Fran Horowitz, Abercrombie & Fitch's president and chief merchandising officer, this shift has been 18 months in the making. "Rather than buying clothes that symbolize membership in an exclusive group, today's consumer celebrates individuality and uniqueness," Horowitz explained in a statement. "Our new brand reflects that confidence and independence of spirit as well as our own dedication to a more diverse and inclusive culture."
Obviously, the company has been on a mission to shed its "cool kids only" image for a while now — which means this very public move isn't totally unanticipated. "It would be foolish to rebrand without its social accounts following suit," given that its sales haven't seen a boost despite its efforts, Will McInnes, CMO of Brandwatch, told Digiday. Plus, we've seen bigger fashion brands totally wipe their social media presence clean as a way to indicate a fresh start before: Let's not forget Saint Laurent's not-so-quiet goodbye to Hedi Slimane. But Abercrombie will also need to have to walk the walk for this marketing stunt to work: "[It's] one of the most well-established brands, but a lot of it wasn't positive," Jessica Navas, chief planning officer of Erwin Penland, explained to Digiday. "Wiping the slate clean and removing the negatives doesn't create a new brand." Inclusivity has been a tricky topic for the brand: Despite its internal efforts to bring more diversity into the company's employee roster, Abercrombie still had to reckon with the aftermath of its reportedly discriminatory policies. Sales haven't been doing so hot in recent quarters, either. If this new chapter is as big as the brand claims it to be, it could be what finally does the trick for a long-ailing retailer. However, it may be a matter of optics — rather than truly reflecting the world around us: models of different backgrounds and body types, as well as a range of sizing for the often invisible majority of American shoppers. (Right now, clothing goes up to a size 10 and XL, and no curvy models.) Let's see what Abercrombie actually delivers next season.