In a weird scenario this week, preppy All-American retailer Abercrombie & Fitch pleads and even offers to pay Jersey Shore’s Mike “The Situation” to not wear their clothes. In a press release, an A&F representative states:
“We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans. We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and the producers of MTV’s The Jersey Shore [sic] to have the character wear an alternate brand. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently waiting a response.”
In summary, the clothes retailer believe that ‘The Situation’ wearing their clothes is a detriment to their brand image, which raises a number of questions and indeed eyebrows. Firstly, it openly assigns the A&F label a sense of exclusivity, with some people being “not good enough” to wear the clothes- not exactly great when you are selling to precocious teenagers. Secondly, it creates a counter-image to the A&F label (i.e. the Jersey Shore loud and party-loving ‘culture’), which immediately angers and marginalises the the large audiences of this popular tv show- with the effect that Abercrombie’s stock price fell nearly 8 percent following the incident. And I think finally, it takes the power of the brand image too far, with an attack on an single individual being largely viewed as distasteful, despite the obvious public copy-cat effect of celebrity endorsement.
But is there a positive to this de-association/negative product placement too? Abercrombie & Fitch describe their move as a “win-win situation”, as they clearly highlight the brand’s values and target audience in the process of paying off the cast of Jersey Shore. This strategy thereby generates massive PR for the company as it draws attention to what the brand stands for, although perhaps not for the best of reasons. A&F therefore differentiate themselves in a competitive clothes market, whilst sparking massive public debate over the decision- in which case, this “PR stunt” seems a bold move by the company to represent their values in the backlash of a reality-tv culture. As they say “any publicity is good publicity”.
This case therefore highlights the challenges concerned with companies remaining true to their brand. Moreover, it also emphasises the knock-on effects of negative PR- with the styling habits of celebrities becoming unintentional brand ambassadors to their choice of clothing label. As such, it got me thinking of further examples where the brand has lost its identity (and in many cases integrity) in popular culture-