So, if you didn’t see it – this week, a major clothing brand actually did the exact opposite of a celebrity endorsement deal. It would seem that clothing brand Abercrombie & Fitch wasn’t really digging the fact that Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino wears their clothing. They actually offered the popular reality star a “substantial” amount of cash to NOT wear their clothes.
A few analysts and bloggers have come out and applauded the move. One in particular, ISI’s Omar Saad wrote “We applaud the decision to dissociate A&F brands from “The Jersey Shore” characters. Especially overseas, this is a proactive step to help maintain the brand’s emerging position as the beacon of casual American luxury.”
I actually think that this will prove to be a stupid PR stunt for Abercrombie – but almost certainly had nothing to do with their stock tanking this week. And I believe that this type of move is completely wrong-headed for marketers. Allow me to explain why.
In a world where the definition of “celebrity” is becoming fuzzier, and where content sharing is increasingly fluid and easy – this ahem… situation… (sorry) brings up two extraordinary questions:
What do we do with rogue promoters?
Is there an opportunity in anti-targeting?
Let’s explore both….
Look Out – They’re Goin’ Rogue
So, the idea of the rogue celebrity offering up their “endorsement” of a brand is nothing new. In his Wall Street Journal article, writer John Annarone reminds us that Burberry had a similar situation (oh dear yes I just did it again) in 2005 when their clothing became the “uniform for some hard-partying Brits” and “alienated some of its higher-end traditional shoppers.” Similarly, Annarone writes, Tommy Hilfiger had challenges in the 90’s as it became a staple of the Hip-Hop culture, which disenfranchised some of the “preppy” audiences they had previously appealed to.
But I think Annarone is getting this wrong. Really those latter examples were just unintended audiences that actually (theoretically anyway) increased sales. That’s a different marketing challenge. More similar is in the 90’s when Scope actively named Rosie O’Donnell the “least kissable” celebrity. Or, a more recent example is when Playboy model Kendra Wilkinson repeatedly declared her love for The Olive Garden restaurant chain – and prompted Playboy to do a nude feature called “Girls of the Olive Garden” (I really don’t make this stuff up folks). That last one prompted the restaurant chain to say that the association with the brand had become “a complicated issue”.
But, coming right out with an anti-celebrity endorsement campaign can also have disasterous results. Just ask Cristal Champagne. In 2006, when their managing director implied that Cristal didn’t welcome all the references to their brand in Rap Music lyrics – they faced an embarrassing boycott led by Jay-Z.
But that leads us to the other question….
Can a “NOT FOR YOU” Position Work For Our Brand?
The ability for marketers to target content and messaging to audiences has never been more powerful. Using content management and delivery software – we can segment based on target personas, their behavior, explicit information, assumed attributes etc… In fact, the whole idea of the hot topics of Web Experience Management, and Customer Experience Management are built on the idea of targeting our content to a specific set of customer attributes.
But as we know – this is going well beyond digital marketing. Segmentation, and persona based marketing is really driving just about everything we do now – no matter what platform we’re using.
In this situation (okay I swear that’s the last one), creating targeted personas is what I’d call a “Passive NOT”. In this case, the absence of targeting a specific persona filters (by default) out the number of people we think won’t be interested in our product or service. Remember the “Passive Not” – because I’m going to come back to it.
But this Abercrombie stunt asks a different question. It asks if we can (or should) flip that idea on its head and start to tell our story in a way that we specifically take a “this is NOT FOR YOU” point of view. This is what I’d call an “Active NOT”. This is certainly the idea behind the Abercrombie PR stunt. Whether or not they are serious about actually paying The Situation to NOT wear their clothes, they are basically saying “if you act like Jersey Shore people, then we don’t want you wearing our clothes.”
To me this is an extraordinarily short-sighted strategy. First, it’s just mired in negativity. There’s no way that you can do this and not look snotty or just plain arrogant. It’s really the equivalent of walking up to a craps table where a guy has been on a run and then betting against him. Now, the guy might be a complete jerk – but you’ve just proven yourself to be one as well.
Untying The NOTS
See, looking at the underbelly of persona targeting – we have to deal with the Passive Nots and the Active Nots. And, Rogue Endorsers might bring us either choice. If we choose to segment our personas too tightly – and really take an Active Not stance – we may lose the opportunity for “Happy Accidents”.
Remember – our Tommy Hilfiger example from above? So, a little more context in that story is that in the early 90’s the Tommy Hilfiger brand was bringing in about $25 million per year. They were squarely targeting “preppy” men. But, in 1994 a Hilfiger wearing Snoop Doggy Dog (the Rap star) performed on Saturday Night Live. It was almost an overnight transformation. Over the next six years, the Hip Hop culture took to the Hilfiger look – and the brand jumped to $67 million. With some quick re-positioning in their marketing, Hilfiger ultimately grew the brand (thanks in large part to the unintended explosive growth of the Hip Hop culture) to $1.8 Billion.
Here’s my Question:
What kind of different history do you imagine would have happened – if after Snoop Dog had performed on Saturday Night Live the Tommy Hilfiger brand had come out with a press release offering the rapper money to NOT wear their clothes?
As marketers, we’re taught, quite appropriately, as we put together our persona strategies – to make them as specific as possible so that we really know these people, we understand their drives – and that we can speak relevantly to them. This, inherently, creates some Passive Nots – because by optimizing who we’re going to speak to – we’ll naturally completely miss others. This is fine.
But let’s NOT Actively Dislike a group of people that we find “off-brand” just because they find value in our product or service. More than being kind of douchey – it just doesn’t make good business sense. It poses the real risk of us losing what could be a completely new and unrealized potential audience.
Like it or not Mike “the situation” Sorrentino is successful. He’s been able to cultivate a following – and Abercrombie has no idea where that will turn.
And as Franklin Jones – the wonderful writer, PR Executive and humorist said “nothing changes your opinion of a friend so surely as success – yours OR his.” As marketers, it’s really our choice what to do with both.
And as for me, I’m just of the opinion that open arms are better than a cold shoulder.