image from myhopebox.wordpress.com
As I was scrolling through my social media accounts today (purely work related of course) I came across an interesting rebranding campaign. Strangely, this campaign is not being handled by a CEO, an ad agency, or even a company. This campaign has been started by and everyday guy named Greg Karber. Karber’s #FitchtheHomeless campaign was launched in reaction to some unsavory comments by the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch Michael Jeffries. Jeffries produced some bad press for the brand when he boasted that A&F was not meant for unattractive or uncool consumers. He was quoted in an interview as saying, “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. 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.” This idea didn’t sit well with Karber who produced and posted this video on May 13. Karber points out that A&F not only keeps overweight individuals from purchasing the clothing through limitations on the sizes the brand produces, but it also burns defected clothing to prevent poor people to gain access to the clothes through charities.
Since this video’s release, the execution of this campaign has created some controversy. Although anyone with a conscience sees the stupidity of the CEO’s statements, some people feel that Karber is also mistreating the homeless by making them symbols of an anti-branding campaign. This is especially problematic since Karber encourages other people to join his movement and post online about it.
In any case, this video is a cautionary tale for brands that choose to position their brand as exclusive from a demographic. Consumers want to spend their money on a brand that they can get behind, and will not hesitate to avoid one that is viewed as unethical. In my courses, we have been discussing crisis management and tactics for dealing with bad press. Although I am disgusted by the comments by Joffries and the ideals he is encouraging, this case poses an interesting topic for crisis management. How do you begin to save face after these comments? Where would you start? I think that A&F could take this moment in the limelight to redefine its definition of beauty, and its concept of cool in a new campaign. Everyone loves a bully that learns its lesson. The company could get involved with foundations that promote wellness, healthy living, and even one that fights homelessness on a larger scale than handing someone a T-shirt. What do you think? Is there hope for this misled brand after all?
quote from http://bostinno.streetwise.co/2013/05/20/fitchthehomeless-backfires-abercrombie-ceo-remarks/