A couple of weeks ago I was walking down Oxford Street and I was approached by a girl (who’s name I will keep anonymous, incase this blog turns out to be more successful than I thought). This doesn’t happen to me at the best of times, especially after an hour long meeting on a blisteringly hot day…in a suit, suffice it to say I was not looking my best…

After some nervous chat (mainly from me, she was a natural) we got to the reason, she was asking if I wanted to become and Abercombie & Fitch employee. My ego was higher than the Shard and wider than the Thames, I had heard about the famous “Abercrombie advertising” and “ Abercrombie look” and along with my sceptisism I sensed an opportunity.

I have now been working there for 10 days and have experienced life as an A&F (Abercrombie & Fitch) customer and employee, so feel I am partly qualified to comment on the advertising of the global brand and whether people are right to criticise (and a lot of people do) or if in this time of tough economic uncertainty, having an ad campaign that stokes a few fires and gets people talking is exactly what every company should be looking to for inspiration.

An example of the A&F advertising

This criticism is mainly directed at the sexual content in the A&F photographs, be it in catalogues, on the side of bags, hung up on massive “billboards” around the store or on the website, you name it and there will be a photo of a half naked man and/or woman posing (unfortunately you wont see me, I tend to concentrate more of the clothes folding and cologne spraying side of things). Is this bad taste? A&F want to be aspirational, the whole idea is that young adults (their target market) will see an outrageously attractive (in some peoples eyes, am I bitter?) young man or woman and aspire to be like them, look like them in certain clothes and believe that shopping at A&F will get them half way there (the gym will have to do the rest) and it works! There will always be people that dislike certain campaigns and people who believe that we should live in a world free of sexually driven advertising but it is a part of life. A&F, I must admit, are using it to the extremes but they don’t draft in models and only use current employees, which, to me, adds a certain charm to the proceedings.

Back to me! The focal point of my training day (and this was repeated more often than I care to remember) was that we, as employees, are there to serve customers and add to the “Abercrombie & Fitch experience”. This “experience” is what makes shopping at A&F different from anywhere else (with the exception of Hollister and Gilly Hicks which are part of the same company and ethos). Many different factors contribute to this “experience”:-

  • The loud dance music that gives the store a “clubby” vibe
  • The shirtless model on the front door who greets customers as they come in
  • The “poloroid girl” who gives customers the chance to realise their “dream” and have a photo taken with a real life model (hint of sarcasm)
  • The well groomed and good looking employees (my ego begins to rise and widen again)
  • The darkness of the rooms

All of these combined make shopping in A&F an activity that you can stretch into a days outing (and people do), it is all about creating footfall. A fact that I was told was that of the 60,000, or so shoppers that come through the door every week (Savile Row store) 25% of them buy and item and the other 75% come in for the experience (allow a few percent for lost tourists and mothers trying to find their sons who have run towards the models). The hope is that by creating this footfall through the “experience” that people will be drawn into a purchase.

A&F bag advertising

It is clear that the A&F way of advertising works. Young adults and teenagers aspire to be like the guy or girl on the side of the bags, they then are drawn to go into to the store by shirtless employees, following this they are greeted by their favorite songs and yet more models and then it is up to the clothes to do the talking and draw them into buying something (if they are not persuaded by a gorgeous girl, and find it hard to say no).

The question that remains is this. It may seem a little pointless to go to all of this effort if only 1 in 4 visitors buys something (15,000 a week). However, it costs considerably less than (I pluck a name from thin air) Nike’s marketing and I am left wondering how many items they would sell if they didn’t lure people into the store with this new and radical form of advertising.

I conclude that yes!, people will always have something to say about promoting items to young consumers using sex as a driving tool, but this is something that it seen everywhere in the modern world. It works, and I think A&F have found, and mastered, a form of marketing that will continue to grow and develop and become a vital part of an industry that is constantly looking for news ways to evolve and grab the “first mover advantage”.

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