Abercrombie & Fitch: Bad Business or Smart Targeting? Abercrombie CEO's Mark Jeffries' recent claims that his brand is not made for "fat people" was a bold and controversial move, but offensive as his comments were, is he being savvy about target marketing?

By Jim Joseph

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

ANF News Now

There's no misunderstanding the message that the CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, Mark Jeffries, recently sent out: the brand delivers a certain "look" and wants to maintain it.

His comments about "fat people", being one of the "cool kids", and "thin, beautiful customers" have, for the most part, been seen as grossly offensive, and as a father of two teenagers, I myself wince.

But from a pure marketing perspective, I'm not sure that he was wrong. When you look at it without any emotion, you'll see that he is applying classic marketing techniques to his business.

A well-defined brand. By putting a stake in the ground, he is clearly defining what his brand stands for and what it offers. There's no doubt about that. Really good marketing means defining your brand so that there's no misunderstanding about what it does and what it offers consumers.

A well-defined target market. In addition to a clear brand definition, good marketing is all about identifying a distinct target market, one that is so well-defined, consumers know who you are talking to at all times. Jeffries has certainly done that.

Related: Defining Your Brand: The First Step In Your Marketing Strategy

Attention-grabbing publicity. Let's face it, Abercrombie as a brand is in decline if you believe all the trade press. Jeffries' statements are a classic stunt to get attention, and attention is exactly what he got. In this case, his target consumer probably loved the commentary, which I imagine is exactly his objective.

Given the context of his comments, it's hard for me to make these arguments. I am a marketing purist and it's also hard for me to say he's not doing good marketing. He's making decisions based on how he wants to manage his business and you can't fault him for that.

Don't get me wrong -- I am not an advocate for offending the public. The problem here is that Jeffries is playing into a huge societal issue that runs contrary to what he's proposing. No one is going to argue, from a public perception perspective, that you should be targeting along the lines of size, weight, personality or popularity. It just feels wrong.

Related: A Rude Experience Inspires a 'Good' Brand

Part of good marketing is being a good citizen. In fact, it's become a cost of entry as consumers demand to know where you stand and how you are giving back to the community. Positioning your brand contrary to public belief is a tricky move. It doesn't work for most people.

So how do you strike this balance of a perfect brand definition and solid consumer targeting while remaining in synch with pop culture?

I think the answer lies in understanding the consumer landscape and listening to the pulse of pop culture. While you have to listen to your consumers and what they want, you also have to see how that fits into the larger picture. If you know that your marketing is likely to offend, you should probably use channels that keep it private with your customers. One-to-one marketing as opposed to social media broadcasting might be a more appropriate choice.

Keep in mind that at the end of the day, the consumer decides. If Abercrombie & Fitch can find enough "cool kids" to partake in the brand, who can argue that they're wrong? But if public perception overrides, no amount of "good marketing" will save them.

Related: Lessons in Avoiding Size Bias From N.J. Governor Christie to Abercrombie & Fitch

Wavy Line
Jim Joseph

Marketing Master - Author - Blogger - Dad

Jim Joseph is a commentator on the marketing industry. He is Global President of the marketing communications agency BCW, author of The Experience Effect series and an adjunct instructor at New York University.

Editor's Pick

A Leader's Most Powerful Tool Is Executive Capital. Here's What It Is — and How to Earn It.
One Man's Casual Side Hustle Became an International Phenomenon — And It's on Track to See $15 Million in Revenue This Year
3 Reasons to Keep Posting on LinkedIn, Even If Nobody Is Engaging With You
Why a Strong Chief Financial Officer Is Crucial for Your Franchise — and What to Look for When Hiring One

Related Topics

Business News

'Just Say You Are Going Broke': Starbucks Slammed For Price Increase On Popular Item

The chain will start charging $1 extra for customization on its popular Refresher beverages.

Business News

The Virgin Islands Want to Serve Elon Musk a Subpoena, But They Can't Find Him

Government officials would like to talk to Tesla's owner as part of an investigation into the Jeffrey Epstein case.

Growing a Business

My Startup Scored a Multimillion-Dollar Contract With a Fortune 100 Client in Just 3 Years. Here's What We Learned.

There's no perfect litmus test to gauge if you're ready to go after big business or not — but if you don't take the risk, you'll never realize the reward.


5 Questions to Ask a PR Pro Before Hiring Them

You probably haven't considered asking these questions, but they're a great way to find the right PR firm for your business.

Growing a Business

The Inevitable Challenges You'll Face as Your Business Grows — and How to Handle Them

There's going to be some discomfort as your business expands, but it doesn't have to stop you from achieving massive success.


This Location-Based Marketing Technique Is the Key to Boosting Retail Sales

Let's take an in-depth look at geofencing marketing and how it's helping retail locations drive foot traffic and boost sales.