Corporate communications

Here’s what the Abercrombie & Fitch documentary can teach you about modern-day corporate marketing

Modern brands understand the power of their influence on customers and audiences. Many have learnt lessons over the years and adapted dramatically as society’s views and expectations have become more refined. 

Investing in environmental and sustainability policies. 
Launching inclusive product ranges.
Making employee experience and workplace culture a priority.

It’s fair to say that brands and consumers have come a long way in the last few decades alone, and as the world follows a positive trajectory towards a more inclusive and sustainable future, it appears that things can only get better. 

But what about the brands that appear to have made unforgivable mistakes? Can a change of leadership and ‘new’ values really save them from the grips of irrelevancy? For Abercrombie & Fitch, having their past resurface in the social media age could leave them faced with big challenges. 

White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie & Fitch was released earlier this year on Netflix, and detailed first-hand accounts of employee experiences working for the brand.

Not only did it shine a light on their (historically) unethical hiring practices, but it also shamed the general public into re-evaluating the marketing and brand strategies we were all heavily exposed to during the 90s and early 2000s, which all contributed to the brand’s ascent. 

As high school and college-aged teens from across the world were swept up by the allure of an all-American ‘aspirational’ fashion range, there were some very sinister events at play behind the scenes and right under our noses.

What can modern marketers learn from the A&F documentary?

Key takeaway #1 Leaders must take accountability

While much of the documentary focuses on select figures who once worked at the organisation, it took a surprisingly long time for them to be held accountable. Ensuring that accountability is incorporated into your company’s culture, and brand & corporate marketing strategies, will put teams at ease and prevent wrongdoing within the organisation. 

Key takeaway #2 Discrimination is never ok

Exclusivity in its commercial sense is making something ‘harder’ to attain to make it appear more desirable or aspirational. Abercrombie & Fitch went as far as to physically exclude people of a certain race, look and body type from their marketing and from working in their stores. They also intentionally didn’t create clothing for large body types up until the early 2010s. 

Key takeaway #3 You can rebrand but you can’t make customers forget

Not every brand has a squeaky clean past, and many have been able to partially erase their controversies from the minds of consumers with clever reinvention, marketing and investment into positive initiatives.

While one of the main culprits of the historic immorality at A&F left many years ago, with the release of the documentary, the hard work their new CEO has done to leave those days behind them could begin to unravel should new scandals surface. 

Brand lessons on: Diversity, ethnicity and inclusion 

Mistakes Abercrombie & Fitch made:

  • They catered only to privileged Americans
  • Hired employees based on race and looks
  • Black employees worked night shifts or in the stockrooms rather than on the shop floor
  • Discriminated against different races and body types
  • Purposely used white, attractive, slim models in their campaigns

What did DE&I look like 10 years ago?

Cultural diversity within businesses and the workplace had only just started to become a big topic of conversation. Brands and employers began to wake up to the benefits of being inclusive, such as bringing in new insights and fostering a greater level of innovation.

Prior to the 2010s, we were much less likely to see diversity within advertising and marketing. 

DE&I now and in the future

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion is now a big priority for large brands and corporations – within recruitment strategies, product and service innovations, advertising and beyond.

Even those that have inclusive policies in place today are continuing to do all they can to represent and accept people from all walks of life.Race, gender liberation, ableness and more are all so important for brand representation in a changing world.

In the future we expect to see: 

  • More investment in CSR policies
  • More accountability for brands through ESG strategies
  • Widescale focus and evaluation of the impact of processes on the environment

Brand lessons on: Employer brand and employee wellbeing

Mistakes Abercrombie & Fitch made:

  • Had a toxic culture
  • Treated employees unfairly
  • Objectified employees for their own gain 
  • Had unethical recruitment policies 

What did employer brand and employee wellbeing look like 10 years ago?

While HR has always had a presence in the majority of companies, the candidate market has never been as competitive as it is today. Many employers were in demand simply because of their reputation as being a leading brand, or the salaries they were offering.

Employer brand and employee wellbeing now and in the future

Employer branding is now an industry in its own right. It has grown from being a seed of an idealistic idea to a globally embraced strategic concept used to attract and retain the best talent.

As education standards continue to rise, the uptick of talent is going to continue to make it hard for brands to stand out to candidates in the market. With different generations focused on very different needs, dedicated employer brand teams are going to become one of the most valuable assets any global company can have. 

Employees have a greater need for a sense of belonging, and if employers and brands can live up to this, workplaces will become more productive, and brand propositions will strengthen.

Brand lessons on: Exclusivity

Mistakes Abercrombie & Fitch made:

  • Intentionally only used white models for the majority of shoots
  • Didn’t create clothing to fit larger people
  • Too focused on the brand and not customers
  • Alienated employees and potential candidates

What did exclusivity look like 10 years ago?

Exclusivity in the traditional sense was a very attractive sales pitch for brands during the 90s and early 2000s, as consumers sought validation from brands and imitated the styles of celebrities they admired. But with the advent of social media, financial uncertainty and lots of turmoil in the world, brands soon realised that by making their marketing inclusive they could not only humanise their offering but also appeal to a wider demographic. 

Abercrombie & Fitch seriously overstepped the mark when trying to appeal to a specific audience. They did this by actively excluding whole groups of people from their marketing, advertising and photography. And for some, rather than being seen as an exclusive brand to aspire to, they became discriminatory in their practices. 

Exclusivity now and in the future

For the everyday person, exclusivity is no longer a motivator for driving purchase decisions. Brands that are intentionally inclusive and accessible to all are much more likely to appeal to Gen Z and Millennials, who place a high priority on diversity and inclusion when it comes to the brands they choose to interact with.

More diversity and inclusion from both a brand employee and customer perspective can help it evolve and develop new ways of working and thinking. 

Manage your corporate marketing and employer brand from one place 

BAM by Papirfly™ is a centralised brand portal that is home to 4 key tools.

Create: Teams can create infinite on-brand assets for their corporate or employer brand. Videos, social media assets, emails, digital, print and more. All created in-house by your existing team. 

Educate: A single place where teams can access brand assets, guidelines and education resources to keep your brand on track globally. 

Manage: Digitise reviews and sign-offs, plan, manage and track campaign timelines and measure ROI of your brand creation portal.

Store & share: A built-in Digital Asset Management (DAM) system, where you can store, organise and edit assets anywhere in the world. 

To learn more about BAM for Corporate Marketing teams or BAM for Employer Brand teams, get in touch with our expert team to book your demo.