Abercrombie’s Fitchuation: Retailer Fears "Jersey Shore" Star is Hurting Its Brand



Brian Cantor
08/17/2011

We’ve heard about the endorsement and public appearance deals that have reportedly yielded millions of dollars in additional income for the cast members. We’ve, alternatively, even heard about sponsors pulling their ads from its weekly MTV telecast.

But here’s a new one (well, sort of) for "Jersey Shore"—casual fashion juggernaut Abercrombie & Fitch has offered Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino, along with any of his castmates, a "substantial payment" to refrain from wearing any of its apparel.

"We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino's association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image," explains A&F in a press release entitled A Win-Win Situation. "We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans."

Part of a cast that is known for bringing significant attention to the Ed Hardy brand, "The Situation" has also been seen sporting Abercrombie & Fitch on the show.

A&F would not be the first fashion entity to desire distance from the "Shore" cast members. In February 2010, Stylelist quoted various fashion insiderswho said their brands wanted absolutely no association with "Shore" cast members at New York Fashion Week.

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In that case, however, the opposition was from luxury fashion designers who did not want their clothing associated with the "f**king peasants" from "Jersey Shore." Abercrombie & Fitch indeed targets an audience preppier than that which would typically found in the "Shore" house, but with a catalogue that showcases T-shirts, button-downs, jeans and sweats, its offerings would not exactly look out of place on the likes of "The Situation" and "Pauly D."

Even more notably, A&F marketed a humorous "Fitchuation" shirt; in 2010, Sorrentino claimedthat he was told it was the brand’s most popular product.

That Abercrombie’s efforts end up revealed as a sarcastic publicity stunt would shock few observers. After all, is there a better way to get on the radar of teens and young adults than by mocking "Jersey Shore?" On the one hand, you win over those thousands of people who leave the obligatory "sign of the Apocalypse" comment on every story referencing the success of the highly-rated MTV reality series. On the other hand, you guarantee yourself media coverage from those outlets that can’t get enough of "Snooki" and company.

According to the Wall Street Journal, more evidence of a publicity stunt came Wednesday morning, when A&F’s CEO Mike Jeffries openly pondered why no analysts had asked about "The Situation" on the investor conference call.

Having finally triggered questions about "A Win-Win Situation," Jeffries cracked that the idea came about when a coworker approached him with "terrible, terrible news" last Friday that Sorrentino had been shown wearing A&F on the previous night’s "Shore."

He added that the company is "having fun" with its anti-"Situation" campaign.

Cute publicity stunt or genuine fear over getting forever stained by the "Jersey Shore," any visible impact of the campaign on Abercrombie & Fitch’s brand could arm marketers with a new layer of insights.

No, a company that generated more than $900 million in revenue this past quarter is unlikely to see much financial needle movement from this campaign. But any traction it does generate could support a fun, alternative direction for "sponsoring controversy," which has often either been strongly embraced in a "no publicity is bad publicity" way or vehemently opposed in a "we honestly don’t want any association whatsoever with this entity" way.

A&F’s campaign sits on a creative middle ground, technically claiming it wants nothing to do with "Jersey Shore" yet obviously doing everything it can to get people talking about its clothing and "The Situation" in the same sentence.

Back when Charlie Sheen’s "Two and a Half Men" falling out made headlines, beverage company Just Chill proposed something similarly-intriguing—it wryly offered Sheen $3 million to "just chill" at his Sober Valley Lodge and stop making controversial statements. Though this brand technically wanted Sheen to serve as the public spokesperson, it was humorously only offering him the gig if he would stop being the person who was garnering so many headlines.

Overshadowing that offer, however, were numerous offers and reports of sponsorship interest from those who simply wanted Sheen to endorse their products and parlay his controversial visibility into extra eyeballs for the brands.

Thus far, observers are split in their assessment of the Abercrombie campaign. Of the 6,331 polled by the Wall Street Journal, 51.4% say A&F’s "A Win-Win Situation" is "brilliant" and "puts A&F in a better light." The other 48.6% call it a "bomb" and a "shameless publicity stunt."

How do you see it? Is there a valuable customer management lesson here?

Update: MTV has issued a response--"It’s a clever PR stunt and we’d love to work with them on other ways they can leverage Jersey Shore to reach the largest youth audience on television."

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