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Abercrombie & Fitch really was serious about taking the sex out of its ads

Reuters/Claro Cortes IV
Goodbye to all that.
  • Amy X. Wang
By Amy X. Wang


Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

One of America’s most sexualized retail brands is following through on a vow to put some clothes on. Abercrombie and Fitch, which has been struggling to remain profitable in recent years while also stemming one controversy after another, unveiled a new winter line yesterday (Nov. 3) that’s decidedly unfamiliar for the brand in both style and tone.

The new collection and its accompanying ad campaign are full of classic styles, long sleeves, and soft imagery—a major departure from the stark, half-nude shots and revealing clothes in past campaigns. “With the evolution of the brand, we wanted to try something new,” Craig Brommers, Abercrombie’s senior VP of marketing, told Women’s Wear Daily, adding that many of the changes are based on consumer feedback.

Old and new. (Courtesy of Abercrombie)

Essentially, the store’s new ads are intended to actually sell the clothes themselves, rather than ideas of sex and exclusivity.

Abercrombie’s new direction may seem abrupt, but in fact it has been shaping up for years. Ever since scandal first blossomed around the store’s controversial (and now ousted) CEO Michael Jeffries, who built up a culture of exclusion and insisted that only “thin and beautiful people” could work and shop in his stores, Abercrombie has been suffering. It closed 300 stores and lost much of its market share to newer competitors. Its shares fell 39% in a 12-month period.

Efforts to craft a new image began in earnest this year. The company abolished its sexualized employee dress code, transformed its stores’ dark, nightclub aesthetic into one that’s more open and inviting, and stripped logos from most clothes. Abercrombie’s new winter line is the latest step in that transformation.

Abercrombie’s move echoes a similar attempt by American Apparel to de-sexualize its ads—though that didn’t do American Apparel much good in the long run.

Will the strategy work out better for Abercrombie? Or will ditching its sex motif and exclusive environment be a turnoff to the teenagers and pre-teens who make up much of Abercrombie’s customer base?

Some light might be shed when the retailer releases its third-quarter earnings on Nov. 20.

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