A&F: Bad Press Over Bikinis for Grade Schoolers

Discussion
Mar 29, 2011
George Anderson

Abercrombie & Fitch is no stranger to controversy. The
chain has taken plenty of heat over the years for its photo depiction of partially
clad models. A story on "group sex" led the company to end publication,
albeit temporarily, of its A&F Quarterly in 2003.

The latest issue
may prove to be even more serious after the chain came under fire for marketing
push-up bikini tops to girls between seven and 14 years of age.

"These bras are an egregious example of a broader culture that is saturated
with sexualizing messages aimed at young girls," Dr. Eileen Zurbriggen,
leader of an American Psychological Association task force on the sexualization
of girls, told CBS News. "There’s nothing wrong with wanting to
be attractive, but girls are getting the message that being sexy is the only
thing that is important."

In response to the backlash that followed the
story making headlines, A&F
recategorized the swimsuits as padded not push-up. A posting on the company’s
Facebook page, said, "We agree with those who say it is best ‘suited’
for girls age 12 and older."

Many people seem unswayed by A&F’s move.
A segment on HLN yesterday
saw host Mike Galanos engage in on-air discussions with viewers about the inappropriateness
of push-up bikini tops being marketed to second graders.

Joe Marconi, an expert
in communication, marketing and crisis management, told The
Columbus Dispatch
that the retailer "had to know that this would
be throwing red meat in the cage of some of the moral majority type folks…
It’s a thinly veiled attempt to get attention, to work a news cycle over
something. It’s not being edgy. Even coming out with padded bikini tops for
12 year olds is gratuitously cheap and publicity seeking."

Discussion Questions: Do you think Abercrombie & Fitch, as suggested in The Columbus Dispatch article, intentionally brought this controversy onto itself? What do you think of the company’s response to the controversy?

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14 Comments on "A&F: Bad Press Over Bikinis for Grade Schoolers"


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Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
10 years 1 month ago

Some things are uplifting, some are just padded palaver. A&F knew what it was doing … and they knew young girls would want their “advanced” offerings. A&F was also aware that the moral majority would object but that wouldn’t overcome the sales push up for the tops for young women.

Max Goldberg
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

If A&F did not knowingly bring this on themselves, their marketing department is due for a change of leadership. This is a traditional A&F marketing ploy. But times have changed since this last worked for A&F, and one has to question the wisdom of this effort. A&F has not recovered from the Great Recession, when it held the line on prices while the marketplace moved to value pricing and promotions. This effort will generate PR, but it will not help in their recovery.

Bill Emerson
Guest
Bill Emerson
10 years 1 month ago

Of course they knew what they were doing. This is hardly new for A&F and it did exactly what it was intended to do–got themselves noticed, got free publicity, and reached out to young people entering or in their rebellious years. We may all be disgusted, but we’re not the customer they were going after.

Kevin Graff
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Not to oversimplify matters … but we are all talking about this today, and isn’t that the point of marketing? Set morality aside for a moment and this will, as always, work.

Is it distasteful? Yes. Will it generate interest, traffic and sales. Yes.

Paul R. Schottmiller
Guest
Paul R. Schottmiller
10 years 1 month ago

This will offend more than the “moral majority” type, and of course, that is the point. A&F once again proves that negative attention seeking behaviors work and that they are not only the domain of small children.

Roger Saunders
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

It cuts both ways.

A&F will find young girls flowing to their stores in certain locations, and finding the sales boost they fully anticipated.

In other locations, they could see a backlash. If they are on top of their game, they’ll deal with both the positive and negative PR, and merchandise the planogram to accommodate the localized taste. That might not fit the ego of New Albany, but it will pay off for them.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
10 years 1 month ago

It is deliberate and exploitative.

I find it very dismaying that many of us feel that despite the marketing of a questionable product, it is ok because it is successful marketing.

Have we all become so politically correct that we’ve given up on the idea that there are lines that shouldn’t be crossed (figuratively and literally)?

I for one feel that the marketing approach is exploiting our most impressionable youth with ideals that they are too young to really fully make rational decisions on.

I have long felt that A&F crossed the line with their marketing approach but this sets the bar at the lowest possible level, the race to the bottom continues with A&F the decided leader.

Ed Rosenbaum
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

A&F absolutely had to know exactly what they were doing and the storm it would create. I did not see one news program yesterday that did not have a segment on it. How much free advertising, even if negative, did it create? A whole lot of free dollars is the answer. A&F gets it. They do not care what the moral majority thinks. They are not the market A&F seeks. So why should they care (in their minds)? They are getting the free pub. That is their bottom line.

The bigger question is to see how many of these suits are worn on the beaches and at the pools this summer season. Then question the parents regarding what made them purchase it. As the comedian, Flip Wilson would say “the devil made me do it.”

Rick Myers
Guest
Rick Myers
10 years 1 month ago

Is it bad press? I don’t think so. Yes, it stirs up controversy and upsets our sensibilities. However, it will drive tons of traffic into their store regardless of whether they buy the swimsuit or not. They won’t compete on price. These girls want to be like their older counterparts. This age group traditionally doesn’t have a lot of disposable income. Mom and Dad buy stuff. Will they?

Doug Fleener
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

As the father of two daughters I don’t like it at all.

At the same time, the only way I can show my disapproval is with my wallet. I know which store we’re skipping this spring/summer.

We should be talking about dELiA’s instead. A great retailer with age appropriate clothes, and some of the best if not the best customer service/experience in in the mall.

Forget the controversy, I’m going with quality and service.

Ben Ball
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

I have one thought to add after reading the comments above. The RW community has generally referred to this as “negative” PR. Have we so quickly forgotten that our parents viewed the things we thought cool “negatively”?

Perspective is everything in these matters. I have the two advantages in that I a) still have teenagers around, and b) can observe them dispassionately because they are nephews and nieces rather than my own kids. From what I can see, the A&F offerings and ads are a hit–not only with the nieces, but also with their mothers and aunts.

I can’t help but think that a detached third party observer would just be sitting back and chuckling at the predictability with which the social life cycle repeats itself. And, if they were a marketer, congratulating A&F for being right back in its sweet spot–at the cutting edge of cool.

David Biernbaum
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Moral debates aside, not every company is the same. A&F isn’t for everyone. And you know what? There are no laws dictating that anyone is being forced to shop at A&F. It’s a free country and it’s a free enterprise economy.

Sue Brown
Guest
Sue Brown
10 years 1 month ago

Yes, A&F knew what they were doing but 7 year old girls are not their current target. They do get two things though by offering these products: 1) some sensationalized press (after all, it is A&F’s belief that any press is good press as long at they spell your name right) which adds to the provocativeness of their brand among their current target market, and 2) they “seed” their brand image among those young girls who will one day be able to spend their money in ways they want to without Mommy’s permission. Do I personally like it? No. But was it what they wanted to accomplish? Undoubtedly.

David Livingston
Guest
10 years 1 month ago

Typical A&F, they always know what they are doing. This the best advertising they can get. In some countries this would not be controversial at all. A&F is just mainstreaming what young girls have been trying to do since the beginning of time, look older and sexier. While we would like remove sexualization from society, we can’t. It will be always and everywhere. Just look on the home pages of internet news providers and see what the common theme is among the most popular stories focusing on women. Generally only the more attractive and sexy women get big press. Seems in order to be newsworthy, the media requires women to be just as entertaining with the sound off as with the sound on.

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