In this, the 125th edition of Cache, we are very pleased to present a guest post by our strategic partner Jen Lomax, just named one of Marketing magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 – as “one of the “smartest young thinkers in marketing today.” As you are about to see, she may also be one of the bravest.
BY JEN LOMAX
Consultant at Satov Consultants
On a recent trip to California, cruising down the coastline in a red Ford Mustang convertible, I found myself recounting “all-American” clichés and the brands that typify them. Somewhere along the coast, between a bevy of burger joints and beach bums, I recalled one of my adolescence favourites: Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F).
Thanks to years of vilifying press coverage, Mike Jeffries, A&F’s CEO, is perhaps best known for remarks perceived as discriminatory and a penchant for plastic surgery. What may be overlooked is a courageous and determined (albeit eccentric) leader who has built an iconic American brand and delivered the market performance to show for it.
When Mike Jeffries was named CEO in 1988, Abercrombie was losing an uncool $25-million per year – but Jeffries insisted he had vision for a “young, hip, spirited company.”
Fast forward to 2006 and Jeffries had successfully cultivated an American retail institution, valued at $5-billion, delivering nearly $2-billion in revenue from its 800+ retail stores. By 2012, Abercrombie and Fitch had doubled its 2006 results, earning a very cool 4.2 billion dollars in revenue.
How did he do it?
In addition to playing CEO, Mike Jeffries has embraced the role of “Chief Brand Officer,” or “CBO.”
Specifically, he is obsessed with cultivating and maintaining the Abercrombie brand, and creating a “sexy and emotional experience” for customers. He is detail-oriented, involved in every aspect of his business, ensuring that every product and customer interaction are consistent with his singular vision of idealized all-American youth. Further, he has built a team, and fostered a work environment and culture that align with and support this vision.
Why is Jeffries portrayed as such a villain?
“We want to market to cool, good-looking people.”
In 2006, he was famously quoted by Salon for saying: “…We want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
More recently, after a well-known columnist revisited the CEO’s 2006 remarks, Jeffries defended: “A&F is an aspirational brand that, like most specialty apparel brands, targets its marketing at a particular segment of customers.”
So I ask you: Is Mike Jeffries an insensitive CEO who discriminates on the basis of social status and a narrow definition of beauty, or is he a passionate CBO with laser focus and a niche product?
At the end of the day, great branding is about relentless consistency, and Jeffries is relentless. Sure, he has offended with his unapologetic commitment to his vision for the Abercrombie brand…but I hazard to say he is one of the great Chief Brand Officers of our time.
BOOK: Brand: It Ain’t the Logo is now available at all TARGET stores in Canada.