Abercrombie Isn't Alone: A Look at Other Brands That Have Shunned Consumer SegmentsSusan Scafidi in Forbes, May 31, 2013
While Abercrombie and Fitch’s unapologetic snub of the full-figured set and exclusive courtship of “cool, good looking” shoppers, in the words of CEO Mike Jeffries, set off a firestorm of indignation among consumers and media alike, marketers have caught heat for excluding entire groups of people for decades.
There’s little question that Jeffries’ 2006 remarks were mean spirited in an unusually public manner. But we only have to look to companies such as fashion house Burberry and Cristal champagne for recent examples of brands that have been criticized for turning their noses up at certain segments of the population.
It comes as little surprise, as the business of doing business calls, in part, for wooing a target audience. That sometimes means strategically rejecting those considered the undesirables — it’s just that most companies try to do so discreetly.
“Marketers have been doing segmentation messaging” forever, Robert Passikoff, founder and president of market research firm BrandKeys, told Forbes.com.
The Beauty Myth
Often consumers don’t even know they’re being rejected.
One Forbes.com reader, commenting on my story that Abercrombie executives had agreed to meet with its critics, noted: “There are cosmetics companies that do not market to women of darker hues and cosmetics companies who purposefully and shamelessly market to people of high incomes all the while deriding those who can’t afford their goods,” the commenter said. “Jeffries was caught in a moment of excessive candor about it, perhaps, but he was only being more forthcoming than other marketers.”
Indeed, the sheer nature of the beauty business means that companies are particularly careful not to appear exclusionary when it comes to their public marketing face, Karen Grant, vice president and global beauty industry analyst for market research firm the NPD Group, told Forbes.
“That’s because there’s so much more longevity in beauty products. In fashion, it’s a seasonal business, whereas beauty is a constant repurchase business,” she said. “That’s why the branding and marketing around it is so careful, as the image can live on indefinitely.”
Therefore beauty firms tend to pitch their messages as aspirational, “as oppose to being dismissive, or ‘you don’t belong here.’”
Cristal’s Bad Bottle of Bubbly
In the late 1990s and early 2000s, hip-hop artists from 50 Cent and Diddy — then Puff Daddy — to Jay-Z embraced champagne Cristal as their go-to bubbly, even referencing the $200 a bottle beverage in song lyrics and featuring it in their music videos.
But Cristal rebuffed that embrace, Susan Scafidi, professor and academic director of Fordham Law School’s Fashion Law Institute, told Forbes.
Frederic Rouzaud, managing director of Louis Roederer, which produces the champagne, told the Economist in 2006 that he looked on rap artists’ love of Cristal with “serenity and curiosity.”
When asked by the magazine if he thought Cristal’s association with “the bling lifestyle” could tarnish the brand, Rouzaud said, “That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.”
The comments prompted big hip-hop artists, most notably and vocally, Jay-Z, to boycott the champagne.
“They disavowed the entire rap community, which has embraced upscale brands, logos and bling,” Scafidi said. What’s more, “There was a real racial overtone to what was said.”
Burberry’s ‘Checkered’ Past
In the late 1990s, British fashion house Burberry was on fire. Its signature beige plaid seemed to pattern all manner of tony apparel and accessories – from pants to purses.
Meanwhile, by 2000, the distinct beige check had become standard dress of the “chav,” a derogatory term used in the U.K. to describe a stereotype of working class delinquents. (At the same time, counterfeit Burberry product was proliferating.)
That’s when the fashion house began to use the famous check pattern on fewer and fewer of its products to restore the brand’s upscale pedigree and distance Burberry from its association with chav culture, a strategy carried out by Angela Ahrendts, the company’s current CEO, and her predecessor, Rose Marie Bravo.
The company also divided its line into three segments: Burberry London, Burberry Brit and Prosrum, “as part of a subsequent, broader effort to recapture an upscale and fashion-forward customer (Prorsum) while still appealing to more classic (London) and even casual (Brit) consumers,” Scafidi said.
But as a result of these moves, “Burberry was received as being somewhere between ungrateful and elitist,” she said.