A&F and the Importance of Branding

Brand identity is a crucial aspect of business, especially within the fashion industry. So, when Abercrombie & Fitch learned that Jersey Shore cast member, Michael Sorrentino, nicknamed “The Situation," was wearing its clothing on and off of the TV show, it decided he was an ill-suited ambassador for the brand. As such, the brand has offered to pay the TV star NOT to wear its clothing. In a company statement titled “A Win-Win Situation,” A&F stated a “deep concern” over the association between Mr. Sorrentino and the brand. A&F offered up a “substantial payment” to Mr. Sorrentino “to wear an alternate brand.”

Is the company really trying to distance itself from some of the most popular celebrities on U.S. television? Is it a genuine effort to protect the brand’s carefully crafted image of casual luxury OR is this simply a big publicity stunt?

There are arguments for both sides. Namely, the news of A&F's request is spreading quickly, drawing attention to the brand that is about to open 40 stores overseas, and which has been lacking in relevance for several years now, in the U.S., at least. There is also the argument that A&F wants to try to rebrand itself and branch out into the luxury market much as Burberry did in May 2001, when they hired cutting-edge designer Christopher Bailey as its creative director. As such, Burberry was able to reposition itself as a British luxury brand.

Brands (especially luxury brands!) have to be especially careful about the associations that are made in accordance with their brand.  Mass media associations could begin to tarnish decades (even centuries for some of the old houses) of focused luxury branding. Is this what A&F is trying to prevent? Maybe. However, it seems a bit unlikely as A&F focuses on casual wear for consumers ages 18 through 22 with a seemingly fun and sexy attitude, which "the Situation" arguably fits within. So, isn't it a bit of stretch to say that the brand doesn't benefit from the free publicity resulting from him wearing the clothes on the show?