Ethics in Advertising: The Fall and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch

“It takes twenty years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” Warren Buffet

A&F have been having a hard time of it lately, even if it is admittedly a little well-deserved. But are they just being made an example of?

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It all began last month, when an interview given to Salon magazine in 2006 with their CEO Mike Jeffries resurfaced on the internet. In the space of a couple of sentences, Jeffries managed to create a PR disaster with his comments about who their products are aimed at.

“Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

In this interview, he’s not just publicly acknowledging the hierarchy of beauty in society, but is admitting to actively aiming A&F products at the supposed beauty elite, encouraging the exclusion of anybody who is deemed to be not attractive enough.

What makes this approach so particularly repulsive however, is that they are targeting teenagers. We would all agree from experience that your teen years can already be incredibly awkward and painful, filled with issues about your self-esteem.

It didn’t take long for his comments to go viral, sending the internet into an uproar and kick-starting a stream of reactions, from the hypocrisy of Jeffries’ statement to all-out consumer activism, led by counter-campaigns like #FitchtheHomeless.

Blogger 'The Militant Baker' addresses the CEO directly with her own ad campaign

Blogger ‘The Militant Baker’ addresses the CEO directly with her own ad campaign

The internet responds to Jeffries' comments... (image source: buzzfeed)

The internet responds to Jeffries’ comments… (image source: buzzfeed)

#FitchtheHomeless  (image source: evansville.com)

#FitchtheHomeless (image source: evansville.com)

Despite their mistakes, I don’t believe A&F are any different from their competitor and numerous other retail giants. They’ve simply been caught off-guard and unfortunately for them, have become a scapegoat for what is an ever-present problem in the fashion industry as a whole. Other stores may not come out and say so, but if you think about the brand image associated with similar stores I’d bet you’d find the exact same target audience and exclusionary attitude.