Friday, May 10, 2013

Using Controversy To Raise Brand Visibility

While idly scrolling through my social media, I saw repeated references and links to stories about Abercrombie & Fitch CEO’s comments about overweight people not belonging in A&F’s brand. I guess I’m getting old and jaded because I could tell you how that story was going to play out before the firestorm gained momentum. I didn’t need to read the blog posts, the articles, or the outraged comments. I’d seen this tactic before.

It’s all about raising brand visibility through controversy.

Calvin Klein showed his mastery of controversial marketing by sexualizing a teenage Brooke Shields.

In fact, Klein has it down to a science with repeated ad campaigns over the past thirty years that have pushed the boundary of good taste further each time.
“The blaze of publicity surrounding his scandalous ad campaign does not seem to have affected business - if anything, it's boosted sales. Customers flocked to the opening of the store.”
Others, like American Apparel didn’t fare as well. Learning from past mistakes, including pornographic ad campaigns, sexual harassment lawsuits, and copyright violations than nearly sunk the company, CEO Dov Charney has scaled back on the controversial advertising and has spent the past few years revamping the brand image into something more socially conscious.

Mike Jeffries, CEO of A&F, made some insulting and controversial comments, true. However, one cannot deny the result. Everyone is talking about his company, his brand, his product, and the direction he is taking his stores. You can’t afford the kind of publicity he’s getting, and you can bet he’ll be laughing all the way to the bank.

There are enough pretentious, insecure young people out there (and even some not-so-young people) with a driving need to be seen as one of the “beautiful people.” Thanks to Jeffries comments, the A&F brand is now has that cache. Thanks to the resulting public backlash, anyone wearing the A&F label will garner instant attention. If there is one thing the A-crowd wannabe desires above all else, it’s attention. With Jeffries’ elitist statements about what it means to wear A&F, you now have a cadre of insecure, A-crowd-wannabe-attention-whores who will walk with a bit of extra sashay in their stride, toss their heads and sneer down their noses at anyone who isn’t wearing the A&F label.

People like Jeffries and Klein resort to controversy because, frankly, it works.

Rather than get up at arms, forming torch and pitchfork-wielding mobs of angry, plus-size villagers, look at this for what it is – an attention-seeking-whore looking to market his brand to the like-minded sheeple who will line up on both sides of the issue. Now you have the size 4 teen craving to fit in who will turn to A&F for that instant belonging, and the size 14 teen looking enviously from the outside willing to do whatever it takes to measure up, or in this case down. Not just teens, either. There are plenty of insecure adults willing to fall into lockstep with Jeffries’ media manipulation as well.

My proposal is simple:  stop talking about it and don’t buy A&F products. An angry shouting mob demanding apologies and changes in the store to accommodate larger sizes won’t do any good except stir the pot some more…not to mention it plays right into Jeffries’ hands by giving him all the cards. Take back control, people. Stop being outraged into a rabid frenzy at every controversy that comes along. Start asking yourself what personal gain the entity at the heart of the controversy can count on by getting you up at arms against him/her/it. You’re being used. Take back your personal power. Learn to laugh at people like that and ignore them. Don’t shop in their stores. Don’t talk about them. Don’t allow yourself to be used as free publicity. The only way these things can succeed is if they can get people like you talking about them.

Jeffries’ comments don’t deserve acknowledgement.

Show a little dignity for crying out loud. 

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