Cashing in on pop culture

Is it worth it?

Abercrombie & Fitch has been all over the news the past two days after they issued a press release saying that they’ve offered to pay Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino, the producers and the rest of the cast of MTV’s hit television show Jersey Shore to stop wearing their merchandise on the show. A & F said in the release that having viewers see The Situation wearing their brand could cause “significant damage” to the company’s image and that the connection goes against the “aspirational nature” of the brand and may be “distressing” to some customers.

This development stems from the fact that an Abercrombie & Fitch corporate employee happened to see The Situation wearing pants with the A&F logo on them on the Aug. 11 episode of the show which was filmed in May. Whether or not taking the payment would mean that any other clothing the cast wore on film during seasons 3 and 4 (which are already in the can) would have to have the logo blurred out remains to be seen.

So, was this a case of a retailer realizing they didn’t want their product associated with the particular personal brand of a reality star? Or did they just realize that the Jersey Shore crew happened to own their product and were inadvertently advertising the store brand to  7.4 million potential customers and try to cash in on that by telling people about the free advertising they were getting?

Based on how this played out, I think it’s safe to say that this was more publicity stunt than brand concerned about tarnishing their image. First, was it necessary to drop a press release about this? If a brand was truly worried about the consequences of being associated with Jersey Shore, they wouldn’t publicize the fact that they were being associated with Jersey Shore.

If that isn’t enough to prove that this is probably more publicity stunt that concern, one needs only to look at the Abercrombie & Fitch quarterly earnings call where the non-issue press release wasn’t being talked about so Mike Jeffries, A&F’s chief executive, made sure to bring it up asking, “Is no one going to ask about the Situation?” He even added, “we’re having a lot of fun with it,” after explaining the situation (no pun intended).

It’s only news because he made it news. And I realize I’m playing into his hands by even typing this because that was his goal, but does anyone even care that The Situation is wearing Abercrombie & Fitch clothing? Or that Abercrombie doesn’t want him to?

This is a retailer who more often than not is in the news for their catalogs feature scantily clad teenagers trying to sell the clothing they aren’t wearing or for selling tween thongs. The Wall Street Journal categorized it as a “teen apparel retailer.” I haven’t heard people talk about it since I was 15 – until now. (However, is it really “teen apparel” when a 29 year old reality star is wearing it?)

But we’re talking about it and it’s getting national attention. It’s also getting backlash as most people are either flaming the retailer for their discriminatory practices or praising the brand’s distaste of the Jersey Shore pop phenomenon but also asking why this needed to be said in the first place in the same breath. A&F stock even fell 8% after the announcement.

It’s interesting to note that this isn’t the first time a brand has attempted to distance themselves from the show’s stars.

Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi was often seen carrying Coach brand purses after the show debuted in late 2009. Last August, according to the New York Observer, Coach decided they didn’t want to appear as though they condoned her behavior or personal brand. But instead of issuing a press release and trying to drum up publicity for themselves they quietly shipped Snooki a handbag from one of their competitors. Once she began being spotted with the competitors bag, that competitor sent her a handbag from ANOTHER competitor … it could have turned out to be a vicious cycle, and one in which Snooki came out on top because she kept receiving free merchandise as each brand tried to out do the other.

While this incredibly duplicitous practice shouldn’t necessarily be condoned, it is kind of hilarious. Plus, it didn’t leave me with the feeling that Coach was really just trying to cash in on the fame and publicity that follows the Jersey Shore crew.

Abercrombie & Fitch’s press release, on the other hand, seems like a half-brained attempt to cash in on both sides of the Jersey Shore fame – they want to appear to hate it, while attempting to wink in joking understanding at those who love it.

So, was it worth it for Abercrombie & Fitch to put associate themselves with Jersey Shore in the minds of consumers? That depends on their corporate goals – if they wanted a flurry of free publicity that wasn’t necessarily all positive, then yes it was. But most people I’ve heard from (and this might have to do with our mid-to-late-20s age range) think it was a useless publicity stunt that makes A&F seem desperate – and that’s probably not the image they were going for.

Photo credit: Mario&Luigi/WENN.com

Post By Liz Harter (70 Posts)

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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About the Author

Liz Harter has a degree in English Writing with a minor in Spanish from Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind. She is an award winning journalist on the collegiate level with a strong background in journalism. She currently works in PR and is a social media autodidact Google+

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