Managing a reputation can be a tricky business as we have seen this week with the US fashion retailer Abercrombie & Fitch. They hit the headlines when they offered a star of the reality TV show 'Jersey Shore' NOT to wear their clothing anymore. The result? Debates on top-rating TV shows across the country over what does or doesn't constitute cool and acres of newsprint belittling the clothing retailer.
Abercrombie's statement read as follows: "We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans". Basically they don't want chavs, or in American parlance 'White Trash' wearing their clothes.
Putting aside the fact that its brand and reputation, although separate, are interlinked, the very fact that these stars of reality TV choose to walk out in this clothing demonstrates 'the aspirational nature of the brand'. If Abercrombie were a political party they would be celebrating the fact that they had successfully understood this desire for aspiration and were communicating with these individuals. It's the aspirational working class who win elections after all.
The company describes its flagship Abercrombie and Fitch brand as 'rooted in East Coast traditions and Ivy League heritage' and 'the essence of privilege and casual luxury'. Again, the company should be slapping itself on the back as these brand values have been successfully communicated, not just to the shores of New Jersey but all around the world.
In politics it is the equivalent of Macmillan's 'never had it so good' or Tony Blair's targeting of 'Mondeo Man'. However this week's intervention was more like John Major's 'long shadows on cricket grounds, warm beer' speech which badly mis-judged the mood, and alienated the aspirational classes that are so essential to the success of a brand or a political party.
In the 24 hours after this storm blew up Abercrombie's stock fell significantly and, if it isn't careful, so will its sales if it alienates anymore of its aspirational customer base by failing to understand what they want.