Abercrombie and Fitch, the popular tween fashion brand, was in the news recently for all the wrong reasons.
Critics began rehashing an old 2006 quote, where CEO Mike Jeffries told a Salon interviewer:
“That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.” …
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”
He also said something to the effect of overweight people should not buy A&F clothes.
Predictably when this quote began to resurface, the blogosphere — complete with hack journalists and arm-chair critics — proceeded to flip a wig (pun intended).
People were furious, mad as hell, and not going to take it anymore. They demanded a formal apology. Change.org even started a petition that amassed over 68,000 signatures.
But here’s the thing…
The CEO was… absolutely right.
When You Try to Please Everyone…
From a business stand point, consumer brands are tough. Especially fashion. Consumers are fickle and overly emotional.
Running a large company is equally challenging. You’re constantly trying to get everyone on board and steer the Titanic through the Antarctic. One minute you’re a genius, and the next a Judas.
And most importantly, you have to be politically correct at all times to every single stakeholder. People at most large companies are literally scared into submission. Speaking your mind is frowned upon — even if it’s the truth. Fitting in is key to climbing the corporate ladder. (Probably why I work for myself.)
That’s a major problem.
Because most large companies are virtually indistinguishable from each other. They same the same things, copy the same features, adopt the same marketing strategies. And consumers can no longer tell them apart. So they’re stuck competing on price.
Once in a rare while, when someone does stick their neck out, they immediately get chopped down.
In marketing — as in life — when you try to please everyone, you end up pleasing no one.
So one of the most valuable things your company can achieve… is polarization.
Why Polarization is a Great Brand Positioning Strategy
Middle of the road becomes boring. It blends in with everything else.
But we start paying attention to things at the extreme ends of the spectrum. We begin picking sides. We identify with the group we belong in, and the other one we’re up against.
And we start voting with our feet, eyeballs, and pocketbooks.
Tesla, an electric car company that makes beautiful, high performance, expensive cars? We can’t get enough. The Chevy Volt? Who gives a crap.
Apple, a company that creates beautiful products and was once headed by an egomaniac that spewed vitriol all over the competition? We make them the most valuable company in the world. Samsung — a quiet, reserved company that also makes good products? BORING!
The Daily Show, a satirical news show on a comedy network with a host that regularly mocks other serious, “respected” news shows. Wins 16 Emmys.
The CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch made some controversial and insensitive statements. Politically correct? No. Exclusionary and polarized? Of course. (I’m not advocating his comments specifically, so don’t send me any hate mail.)
Doing this turns some people off, but it also creates zealots at the same time.
The downside? People get offended. NEWS FLASH: Everyone gets offended these days. So issue your apology and move on.
But the bigger mistake?
Backing down from your position. You can’t shy away from taking a side and speaking your mind.
You can’t stand out and fit in at the same time.
Otherwise you risk being completely ignored — just like everyone else.