Lululemon, the anti-Abercrombie, has been in the news lately for handling its sheer pants crisis transparently and successfully. Then there is Abercrombie.
When last we looked, the high-times retailer was taking renewed hits from a 2006 interview in Salon by CEO Mike Jefferies. In it he basically said the company caters to the cool, the elite, and ignores plus size people. In recent months, consumers ranted on social media about this attitude.
In response, Abercrombie did ask for forgiveness, but it refused to introduce a new line of larger clothes. If it had, it might have also asked a prominent large person — could Shaq be enticed? — to conduct sensitivity training for its CEO and store managers.
What it did do reeks of bribery and payoff. This is often an ill-conceived strategy venture by people or companies who underestimate the seriousness of their crisis and the dedication of its opponents. It’s like a polluter offering a town bottled water, or an airline giving away $100 vouchers for your next flight after you sat on a tarmac for four hours. It’s too little, too late and it insults rather than heals.
The company announced Tuesday it will offer a college scholarship to high school students who persevere academically in the face of bullying. Starting next year, the scholarships will be administered through the National Society of High School Scholars Foundation and will also go to students who lead anti-bullying efforts, Huffington Post reported.
Reactions were predictably negative. Public relations “ploys” give everyone a headache and leave a bad taste in your mouth. They are sleight of hand, hocus pocus and rarely work. Like if BP sponsored a cash prize fishing tournament in the Gulf as oil spewed into it, or if the NSA held a public rally in support of the First Amendment. They ring false.
Some of the apparel brand’s critics, like 18-year-old Benjamin O’Keefe, said the anti-bullying campaign shows the company is “becoming the epitome of hypocrisy.”
“It doesn’t make sense that a company that is still bullying itself is now working on an anti-bullying campaign,” O’Keefe told HuffPost. He’s gathered 75,000 signatures in an online petition against the company after he spotted Jefferies 2006 comments on the business news website Business Insider.
O’Keefe said it will take more than just an anti-bullying campaign to change his mind about the company; he’d like to see a public commitment from Abercrombie to stock larger sizes for women as well as to include plus-sized models in its advertising as some of its competitors do.
“It’s not enough, it’s not sincere, it’s just a way to try to avoid the bigger issue,” O’Keefe noted.
Abercrombie would do better to fix this with full measures, not halfways. Lululemon apparently asked its CEO to step down, which may or may not have been smart. Abercrombie must act swiftly to fill the hole it’s been slowly and steadily digging itself deeper into. Admit what Jeffries said was ill-considered and stupid — which is what most people think anyway — apologize again and open your doors to all.
Discrimination is not a marketing strategy, it’s discrimination.
Not everyone can buy what Tiffany, Ferrari, Rolex and Rolls Royce sell, but they’re more than welcome at all those places to shop and free to buy.
Abercrombie would do well to stop its self-proclaimed elitism. Fine if you want to cater to an elite clientele, but you don’t have to brag about it or exclude others.
The content of this blog is about crisis management and mismanagement in a digital age. It originates with Steve Bell, who spent 30 years as a journalist for the Associated Press and in four top editor positions at The Buffalo News. He is now Partner/Director of Public Affairs at Eric Mower + Associates, one of the nation’s largest independent advertising, integrated marketing and public relations agencies, with seven offices in the Northeast and Southeast. Learn more about EMA at http://www.mower.com. Steve’s blog is based on his own opinions and does not represent the views or positions of Eric Mower + Associates.