Abercrombie & Fitch to dial back the sexuality in its ads

“The things they were doing to create buzz weren’t working anymore,” Brand Keys’ President Robert Passikoff said. “Shirtless models are so five years ago.”
Mon May 4, 2015 - 6:20 pm EST
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May 4, 2015 ( – Known for years for its sexually explicit ads, fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch is backing off the heavy sexual focus of its marketing and branding, and will no longer require that employees fit a certain “attractiveness” mold.

“By the end of July, there will no longer be sexualized marketing used in marketing materials, including in-store photos, gift cards and shopping bags,” Abercrombie & Fitch told the Wall Street Journal.

Gone as well will be the shirtless models from store openings and other events.

Lower-priced competition and changing tastes appear to be driving the changes, which the public should start seeing in the next two months, according to a news release from the store.

Abercrombie & Fitch had achieved pop culture status in the 1990s with its casual wear marketed via scantily-clad youth, gaining popularity with teens at the same time it drew concern and criticism from adults.

But teens are now apparently discarding the Abercrombie & Fitch prototype and moving to less expensive competitors, causing a decline in the store’s sales. Both earnings and total sales have decreased over the last two years, and its shares have dropped roughly 39 percent during the past 12 months.

New personnel policies state the company will stop hiring sales staff based upon “body type or physical attractiveness,” and will ease its notorious “look policy,” allowing employees to dress in a more individual way.

The title “Brand Representative” will also replace “Model” for sales staff.

Abercrombie & Fitch ranked at the bottom of the list among 16 apparel brands in customer loyalty, according to a current index assembled by consulting firm Brand Keys. The store hasn’t garnered the top slot since 2011.

“The things they were doing to create buzz weren’t working anymore,” Brand Keys’ President Robert Passikoff said. “Shirtless models are so five years ago.”

Former CEO Mike Jeffries, who took over in 1992 and who had founded the highly sexualized brand, left suddenly last December. Abercrombie & Fitch is looking for his successor, while also working through its new image.

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The company logo is gone from clothing in North American stores, responding to teens who are looking for more individualistic styles. Larger sizes for women are being added, and so are clothes for younger children.

While Abercrombie & Fitch works to replace its principal executive and define its new image, a little bit of its past image will remain.

Shirtless models, it said, will still be used in images for Abercrombie & Fitch’s Fierce cologne.

Lower-priced competition isn’t the only thing knocking at the company’s door. There have been lawsuits, one that is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court that claimed Abercrombie & Fitch turned down a Muslim job applicant because she wore a head scarf.

Industry experts are not yet convinced the plan will succeed.

“They are going to turn up the lights and put shirts on the dudes, but there is no accompanying story,” said Jeff Gomez, chief executive of Starlight Runner Entertainment Inc., a production company that advises executives on branding. “That is a big danger for Abercrombie.”

The president of Abercrombie & Fitch’s Hollister brand said the company is seeking to navigate the current evolution of things.

“We do have very strong, iconic brands,” Fran Horowitz said, “and our intent is to make sure that we keep the spirit of those things alive while modernizing what’s happening here.”

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