Jamie Matthews, CEO at Initials Marketing, takes a look at the claims made by Abercrombie & Fitch, the recent #FitchTheHomeless campaign, and the results of its brand generosity survey.
“It is our mission to continue our efforts to support human rights, invest in our associates, give back to our communities, commit to environmental sustainability efforts, make responsible business decisions, stand for and achieve diversity and inclusion.” Unless, that is, you’re fat. Or old. Or ugly.
Yes, the quote above is from Abercrombie & Fitch’s CSR statement. But recent comments from its CEO Mike Jeffries and the subsequent viral backlash against his efforts to build an ‘aspirational ‘ brand show just how much our expectations of good corporate citizenship have changed.
Greg Karber’s YouTube video, showing him going out on the streets of LA, buying old A&F clothes for a fraction of a marketing executive’s daily salary, and handing them out to appreciative, unphotogenic homeless people, has had more than 400,000 hits to date. It’s touched a widespread nerve among the majority of us incensed at the fact that a big corporate should put its brand before the common good. And inevitably, its reputation among its target audience of 18-34 year olds has dived.
Result: complete CSR fail. As the dive in A&F’s reputation among its key demographic of 18-34 year olds shows, we now expect a great deal more from corporates.
Initials’ own Brand Generosity research, undertaken in conjunction with YouGov among 2000 people nationally, underlined a simple insight that savvy brands already know and are acting on: that the brands which survive are those that will make life better.
Gone are the days when CSR was just about philanthropic giveaways with one eye on looking good. The ‘new’ CSR is about maximising brand profit and being a force for social good, in nearly-equal measure. We are beginning to see a general consensus that not only can brands create a symbiotic relationship between the bottom line and doing the right thing, but in today’s climate, it’s an intrinsic part of doing business.
Our Brand Generosity research unequivocally found that while we are overwhelmingly supportive of companies who support the local community, if it has a bad reputation, we probably won’t buy from it.
So A&F’s current stance isn’t exclusionary or aspirational: it’s just arrogant and out of touch. It’s certainly not a fashion statement, it’s just fashion fascism. And in an age when the old order of “tell and sell” advertising is being replaced by meaningful and relevant dialogue between brands and customers, every nuance and tone in a brand’s voice matters.
Shopper expectation is changing, and with it, CSR. We might still be suspicious of companies trying to do good (again, a key finding of our Brand Generosity research), but there’s no question that we’re starting to expect more than a passing nod to excellent corporate citizenship. Jeffries should take heed.