Did you know that Abercrombie&Fitch has offered money to a celebrity to STOP wearing A&F clothes?
In an official release, no less, the clothing brand asked Mike ” The Situation” Sorrentino, possibly the most obnoxious of the Jersey Shore cast, to switch to another brand, and offered a pay off if he did. Apparently, the branding department felt that he was not representative of the brand, and may in fact damage its reputation.
The story came to my attention in yesterday’s LA Times and it felt like the can of proverbial worms.
First, consider the reality behind the request, that of celebrity endorsements.
The idea that a 100 year old brand, with significant equity, can feel damaged if a reality TV show star of inappropriate behavior wears their clothing is a frightening reminder of the power that celebrity wields on the collective mind.
I assume that by making this offer public, the brand not only wanted The Situation to stop wearing the T-shirts, but also to squash any thought that Sorrentino may be a paid spokesman for the Abercrombie and Fitch clothing, because the underlying assumption in all celebrity endorsements is that they eat, wear or say something positive about a place or product only for monetary gain.
I am all for picking and choosing your brand ambassadors, but I think that when you tell someone NOT to wear your product, you’re moving into seedy territory that is more damaging than helpful to the brand. Because customers feel offended that the company presumes to decide who is and isn’t good enough to use or wear their products.
Sure, exclusion works as a marketing tactic, if you’re a luxury good, if by making something not accessible, you transform it into something iconic and aspirational. But you work that exclusion smartly, using price, location, in-store experience to subtly communicate to potential customers that they are not desired. You reference other customers and make them operate the exclusion. Clubs and associations have been doing this for ever. And you always leave the gate open for people to access your brand or product if certain conditions are met.
Telling a customer, even one as crude and frankly annoying as Mike ” The Situation” that they are not your brand, and should switch to another makes other customers question whether they are your brand. Can you be in business without Mike? Sure. But can you be in business without all the guidos and guidettes? Or without all fist-pumping, club going American youth? And they might avoid your brand is they feel that what you rejected in that customer is something that represents them too.
It might all be a publicity stunt. If it is, and it looks like that was it’s purpose, it has a dangerous double edge. Not all customers are savvy in the art of PR.
And to be honest, it didn’t really matter that Mike and Snooki and the lot wore A&F clothes. They have horrendous taste anyway.