Did Abercrombie’s ploy to take shirt off Situation’s back leave them flopping on the Jersey Shore?

August 18, 2011


Who gives a shirt?

Okay, so everyone is now aware of clothing retailer, Abercrombie & Fitch’s open letter to Jersey Shore’s Mike “Situation” Sorrentino offering him big money NOT to wear the brand on his TV show or anywhere. Here’s the story in Adweek

On a personal level I don’t give a shit. But professionally the story does peak my curiosity. Adweek’s poll asking readers if they think it was a genius PR move by Abercrombie or a cheap shot stunt sums up the, um, situation.

For the record the poll is almost dead even. For the record I voted in favor of Abercrombie. But like a lot of you I wonder: Was it a savvy marketing move or just plain stupid? Likely the answer is both. If the ploy would have brought the desired result (Abercrombie is dissing that douchebag. How cool is that?) we’d all be applauding the tactic, calling it a knowing manipulation of popular culture.

Instead the early returns seem to favor the douchebag (and if ever there was one, he’s it). Why? I don’t think it’s because as Sorrentino applauded in a recent tweet: “Thanks everyone for watching my back!” No, I believe the majority of people who received Abercrombie’s message perceived it as “a transparent attempt to get attention.” (Adweek). Even though I voted to the contrary, I now believe they’re right.

Yet, I still think the scheme was a good one. It was the execution that bombed. If the plea to Mr. Sorrentino would have been handled differently and/or gotten out differently we might have a different story. Differently. How so? Well, I happen to think the retailer’s instinct for reverse marketing was savvy. It attempted to take advantage of the obvious backlash to Jersey Shore, which always shadows crap like that.

But when you’re playing with popular culture (especially in the age social media) you’re playing with fire. The moment people began receiving the message was critical. If the news came out as a leaked letter to the producers of Jersey Shore it might have been perceived as cool, insider knowledge. Instead the message appeared more as a press release. Not cool. By the time Gawker and the like got to it the jig was up. My opinion those first responder tweets set a tone and the tone set a fire. Like this one from Mat Zucker at Ogilvy One: You can pay me not to wear Abercrombie, too! Funny. Knowing. It was a spear to the heart. One of many.

But anything can happen. A few months from now (maybe even weeks or days) the residual message may be that Abercrombie took a stand against a vulgar reality TV star that dresses like an imbecile. Over time that’s a good rep for a hip retailer. Right now not so much.

3 Responses to “Did Abercrombie’s ploy to take shirt off Situation’s back leave them flopping on the Jersey Shore?”

  1. Hey Steffan – interesting take, but when I heard, my interest was less granular – more along the lines of can you fully control a mass-market brand? Should you? Anyway, blogged about it myself: http://lawrencemannino.com/?p=752 Interested in your take – best -L-

  2. See, the problem is that A&F customers are already douchebags. So, they’re kinda dissing the culture they’ve bred over the past 15 + years.. not to mention most of their target watches jersey shore. Maybe they should stop designing clothes that douchebags want to wear if they want to move away from that association

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