I heard the news today that Abercrombie & Fitch has decided to pay off the Jersey Shore gang in an effort to distance their brand sensibility from those of those crazy fun-lovin’ kids from Joisey.
What a misstep on the part of Abercrombie’s brand guardians and PR folks. But it did bring up some interesting questions from the brandosphere.
Curiously enough, these days I think that the argument can be made that, while one can define, create and curate and brand message in an ongoing fashion – an approach called ‘brand journalism’ by some folks in this industry – the reality is that in today’s social media marketplace, there are limitations to the amount of control a company has. Brand strategists and content providers can launch and shepherd and brand, but once it’s out the door and on the street, it’s truly and organic beastie. There’s simply no way to completely control a mass-market brand. Period. End of story.
All that can be done by guys like me is to define and build a brand foundation, develop a compelling story, and provide content and touch-points that perhaps can guide the conversation a bit. And, honestly, in a consumer-empowered world, that’s exactly the right approach. Build it and set it free, then gently guide it as it evolves: think of your brand as a living, constantly evolving organism that interacts with customers along its life path.
In the case of Abercrombie (and yes, I am aware that everybody got publicity out of this, and that ANF is down about 10% as I write this), the attempt to cast the widest possible net for customers, and then decide that some of the fish should be thrown back because they don’t meet some artificial standard (sorry, there is no Abercrombieville or Fitchburg to which we can travel – it’s a marketing construct, people) smacks of hypocrisy.
And in a new world of two-way brand communication, I’m afraid that A&F is going to learn a tough lesson.