Marketing to Moms: Is Abercrombie CEO Brash or Brilliant?

Is Abercrombie CEO Marketing to Moms?

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO: “Only Cool Kids Can Shop Here”

Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries is in the middle of a social media firestorm with his comments that he doesn’t want plus-sized people shopping there. Jeffries is quoted as having said the following in an earlier interview:

“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Moms Respond to CEO Jeffries and his Remarks

“As far as Jeffries is concerned,” wrote reporter Benoit Denizet-Lewis in Salon, “America’s unattractive, overweight or otherwise undesirable teens can shop elsewhere.” His comments have many moms up in arms, including Andrea Neusner who wrote the letter below:

Dear Mr. Jeffries:

Thank you for clarifying the reason you do not carry sizes larger than a 10 at Abercrombie. Your customer is an “attractive, all-American kid with a great attitude and lots of friends.” I am a mom of 3 daughters, ages 17, 13, and 10. They are all thin, attractive, all-American kids with great attitudes and lots of friends. They shop at Abercrombie. I believe they are your target audience.

Please find the enclosed clothing, purchased at our local Abercrombie/Abercrombie and Fitch stores. My thin, popular, cool kids will not need them anymore.

Not only will I not let my kids shop at Abercrombie again, I will not let them wear what they already have in their closets. Normally I donate our unwanted clothes, but in this case, I wouldn’t want any unsuspecting thin, cool person to send the message that being exclusionary is OK.


Andrea Neusner 

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Dove Real Beauty Sketches online commercials, in which Dove commissioned a police sketch artist to draw women as they see themselves, and then as others describe them. The women see themselves as less attractive, while others see them far more kindly. The commercials have gone viral with 52 million hits to date. Its mantra: “You are more beautiful than you think!”

It looks like a self-esteem smack-down: Abercrombie vs. Dove. Mean, bully culture (A&F) vs. a self-esteem promoting, compassionate, we-can-make-the-world-a-better-place sensibility (Dove).

Retailers like H&M, Forever 21 and American Eagle do a pretty good job of exciting fashion customers of all ages and sizes. And they’ve been consistently stealing market share from the floundering Abercrombie & Fitch.

And while his version of marketing genius seems to be stoking the anxiety of youngsters who want to be considered cool by their peers, it’s an anxiety that CEO Jeffries, now in his late 60s, doesn’t seem to have outgrown himself. As Salon put it:

“Jeffries wants desperately to look like his target customer (the casually flawless college kid), and in that pursuit he has aggressively transformed himself from a classically handsome man into a cartoonish physical specimen: dyed hair, perfectly white teeth, golden tan, bulging biceps, wrinkle-free face, and big, Angelina Jolie lips.”

Is Jeffries Actually Marketing to Moms?

Here’s the thing: Jeffries is a businessman, and he can certainly market to whomever he wants. But who does he think is paying for all those A&F jeans and tops? That’s right. Moms. And though targeted marketing is done by many brands, the real issue here is that his remarks are just plain mean, and moms see that.  Call me crazy, but it seems that alienating the people who buy his merchandise might not be the smartest thing.

What do you think: Should marketers feel free to market their brands as they see fit? In the end, it’s up to the consumer to decide, even if the concept is outdated.