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American Apparel

"American Apparel is boring" for its use of sexual imagery in its ads

By Nick Gray

April 11, 2013 | 4 min read

Yesterday, The Drum reported that an ad campaign from American Apparel was banned by the ASA over complaints of its use of sexual imagery. As a result, Nick Gray, managing director of Live & Breathe, has reacted by labeling the company's strategy - and its CEO - as 'boring'.

American Apparel is boring. Its chief executive, Dov Charney is even more boring. The brand’s approach is akin to Peter Stringfellow banging on about his sexual prowess when he should simply shut up and retire along with his leopard-skin posing pouch and thinning mullet.

When will American Apparel realise that its crude use of sexual imagery to sell its clothes is passé? Any shock value it might have had has simply disappeared. It’s been overdone and the world has moved on. Just as Benetton’s iconic ads ran out of steam and the zeitgeist changed. Funnily enough, that’s how the world works.

And blimey, when you hear that there are plans to resurrect the feminist icon that was Spare Rib magazine later in the year then you really do get the sense that things are changing. It promises to be “celeb-free and to sit alongside Cosmo on the newsagent's shelf, instead of on those carousels in Wholefoods alongside Green Parent.” We’ll see about that.

But I digress. There was a time, and it was quite a while back now, when AA’s range of utilitarian-slash-sex-garment products were ‘of the moment’. The styling and look hasn’t evolved – and it always needs to in fashion. The same applies to its advertising. The ads that come in for so much criticism each and every time are basically soft porn weakly justified by business. They are reflective of the business as a whole, where things are done for Charney’s own gratification as much as they are to sell clothes; perhaps even more so.

The product itself trades on being ‘clean but cheap’, but cheap doesn’t necessarily mean great value. Experience and quality make up the rest of the value equation, and shoppers can find better from other similar high street chains.

I’ve always maintained that Charney should sell up while the brand is still worth something and let someone whose attitudes don’t interfere with business goals run the company. If not, he might simply find his business amongst the growing number of casualties of our grim economy. I for one wouldn’t shed a tear.

If he stays, the world at large would take AA more seriously if Charney stopped using the brand as his plaything and started running it more like a business. Being a total maverick in fashion is good to a point, but if it means the business is suffering, it’s time to rein it in!

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