Racy A&F Quarterly Returns

Jun 28, 2010

By Tom Ryan

A&F Quarterly, Abercrombie & Fitch’s controversial magalog
described by some as "Playboy for tweens," is being relaunched after
a seven-year absence.

First published in the retailer’s heyday in Fall 1997, A&F
college-centric articles as well as photo essays by Bruce Weber depicting models
in erotic or homoerotic scenarios. Those images, as well as content including
alcoholic drink recipes, sex tips or porn star interviews, led to numerous
boycotts from religious and women’s groups. The quarterly was discontinued
in December 2003, although it returned to London in Spring 2009.

The 176-page publication,
available July 17, will be sold for $10. The new issue’s Hollywood theme includes
photography by Mr. Weber.

Comparable-store sales at A&F fell 19 percent at the A&F
chain in 2009 but recovered somewhat to show a one percent gain in the first

"They are starting to reconnect with some of their customers and want
to drive more traffic into their stores and e-commerce site," RBC Capital
Markets analyst Howard Tubin told The Associated Press. "A
catalog is one way for them to do that."

Some wondered how the magalog
will be received, considering their tween target’s obsession with social media.

"It’s pretty exciting news," said Michael Wood, vice president of
Teenage Research Unlimited to The Columbus Dispatch. "I think that
young people are bombarded by so many images that are virtual — websites,
apps, images shared, even Google images — it all kind of runs together. This
is a way to be big and fashionable and to stand out."

He further noted that
the original publications have become collectors’ items.

But consultant Chris
Boring of Boulevard Strategies found the revival "a
real head-scratcher."

"For any company, let alone an apparel retailer, to be starting a magazine
in this economy really bucks the trends," said Mr. Boring. "I just
don’t see the market out there for a $10 magazine, especially with teenagers
so into technology. I would think the money would be better spent on some new
mobile app."

"The only thing I can think of," Mr. Boring added, "is maybe
they miss all the controversy and publicity that came off of that."

Discussion Questions: What do you think of the relaunch of the A&F Quarterly?
Does Abercrombie & Fitch have to be controversial to succeed? How will
the current preoccupation with social media affect the magalog?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.

Join the Discussion!

15 Comments on "Racy A&F Quarterly Returns"

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Bob Phibbs
10 years 10 months ago

How many parents are like Alex Witt who when I was interviewed on her MSNBC show Saturday about this story replied to my question, “Would you let your kids shop there?” said, “NO!”?

According to a Time article in April 2010, Mr. Jeffries was named as one of the highest paid, worst performing CEOs in 2008 for a reason. They’ve lost 30% of their customers. In May they were down 5% when other retailers were up.

The arrogance of the brand from the top down is counter intuitive. The catalogue drew parents away with their soft-core porn approach. Now it’s back when schools and parents are confronted with sextexting of naked pictures of teenagers and its consequences. It is a different market than the freewheeling early 2000s.

The Emperor has no clothes–just like this catalogue.

Doug Stephens
Doug Stephens
10 years 10 months ago

There’s a belief in marketing circles that it’s better to be notorious than forgotten. The concept has worked for celebrities and rock stars for years.

What I find even more curious is that North Americans even care about this. In Europe, it wouldn’t even hit the radar.

Roger Saunders
10 years 10 months ago

A&F lost contact with its customer base a good while ago. Ego can work in the boutique side of the apparel business. A&F has far too many stores/banners to carry forth the ‘attitude’ that emanates from Columbus.

Issues are compounded in a soft retail market, when parents still hold a percentage of the purse on teen spending.

This model is broken, and the top of the model makers doesn’t seem to have an interest in listening to the consumer, rather dictating to them–wrong move.

Marge Laney
10 years 10 months ago

I know sex sells, but I’m not so sure about this one. Is it me or does this move seem a little desperate, especially as its re-launch comes at the ever so critical for Abercrombie BTS time of the year? I believe it will get the attention of much of their teen target, but they better have something new and improved when their customer closes the catalog and ventures into their stores.

Chuck Palmer
10 years 10 months ago

I’m based in Columbus, so I understand the general distaste for A&F’s arrogance (see recent store launch in Japan) but I have to look at this from the consumers’ points of view.

A&F has developed a “rebel with a pretty face” stance and that allows its target consumer (not just kids) a way to rebel without going “too far”–(not a lot of piercings in the A&F set).

This feels dangerous and thus appealing. All the controversy and coverage just adds to its cultural relevance. With social media, this meme will spread fast. Sharing images? You betcha.

I’m still not sure how this will move the merchandise, but it surely is a brand builder.

Brad Ellman
Brad Ellman
10 years 10 months ago

Either way, A&F gets notoriety. Bad press or good press = press. My question though is what the attitude of A&F has done towards its relationship with its core customer.

Cathy Hotka
10 years 10 months ago

In a society bereft of positive role models, is this the best we can expect from a marquee brand?

Eliott Olson
Eliott Olson
10 years 10 months ago

They lost me when they gave up selling sporting goods.

Ed Rosenbaum
10 years 10 months ago

What a head scratcher this subject is! Why anyone would invest in restarting a print magazine is questionable to me, for starters. Maybe sleeping dogs should have been left lie.

But there is the other side. Even questionable publicity is better than no publicity. I can not see this as a problem anywhere around the globe with the exception of here.

No, I am not going to buy it. No, I am not avoiding shopping at A&F because of it. I just do not have any need to shop there. This does not changed my mind.

Gene Detroyer
10 years 10 months ago

Reading the comments above, it seems we are talking out of both sides of our mouth.

Consider…A&F had a core customer. A&F lost their core customer. Now they are re-publishing a magalog that at one time targeted their core customer. Maybe those (teens and a bit older) who will respond to the publication are the A&F core customer.

It seems we want A&F to be just like any other retailer. There are plenty of teens that don’t want to be like every other teen.

Ted Hurlbut
Ted Hurlbut
10 years 10 months ago

A&F established themselves as being a cutting-edge brand by being provocative. Over the past several years they established that they were tone-deaf and unresponsive to their customers. Re-establishing their cutting-edge chops is essential to their brand positioning, but re-launching yesterday’s magazine doesn’t seem the right approach to re-establishing relevancy with today’s (not to mention tomorrow’s) customers.

Tim Henderson
Tim Henderson
10 years 10 months ago

If A&F simply relaunches the subversive and controversial mag of yore, then it’s little more than a desperate move that may offer some short-term gains (i.e., publicity), but less likely to produce long-term loyalty. But if they relaunch an evolved lifestyle mag that takes into consideration changed consumer lifestyles–and they find a way to bring that into the social media space–then they may gain some traction.

At day’s end, if the apparel doesn’t resonate with consumers, I don’t think it matters how many scantily clad models line the pages and how much controversy it generates. At that point, the mag’s core consumer becomes the erotic image collector, not the apparel buyer. On second thought, A&F may be angling for a new biz: erotica publisher.

Doug Fleener
10 years 10 months ago

As the parent of two middle-school daughters I don’t agree with the concept at all, but I think it is downright brilliant move. I see it as A&F getting back to their roots marketing with sex and controversy.

Parents will hate it which will make it that much more appealing to their targeted customers.

Different organizations will call for a boycott which will make it that much more appealing to their targeted customers.

The press will be all over it which will make it that much more appealing to their targeted customers.

Even if the magazine doesn’t have a long shelf life, it will absolutely help their business.

Lee Peterson
10 years 10 months ago

I love that magalog. The idea of having a brand magazine that exemplifies the target customer’s lifestyle is simply brilliant. Their music and book sections in particular were fabulous. Of course boomers think it’s “controversial”…just further proof that they don’t “get” the A&F brand. Which in turn, makes them even cooler in the eyes of their customer.

Although A&F has made some tactical mistakes recently, I believe it’s still one of the strongest specialty brands at retail.

Bill Hanifin
10 years 10 months ago
Skipping the moral debate for a moment, I think it is worth pondering whether A&F can or should charge for the content itself. Possibly the cover price makes the content even more elusive and therefore attractive than if it were all available for free. The kids that can afford to buy the A&F clothes will also be able to gather $10 to buy the catalog, so I believe the price will not discourage purchase or limit circulation. There has and always will be a counter culture element that is highly attractive to the teenagers who are seeking to flex adolescent muscles. A&F claims that space with the teen-club atmosphere of their stores and amps up the message with this catalog. The collective elements of the brand message are “needed” to encourage people to buy essentially goods that competitors (American Eagle and others) offer at similar quality for a better price. I do think it is sad that A&F can’t find a way to express what is trendy, edgy, and cool without encouraging the risky behaviors… Read more »

Take Our Instant Poll

Is the relaunch of the A&F Quarterly a good or bad idea for Abercrombie & Fitch?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...