Marketing & Stereotypes: The Abercrombie & Fitch Story

Nowadays it is human nature to attempt to classify people, products and brands into different stereotypes.  A stereotype is a standard classification that individuals commonly classify other people, products and brands.  People are stereotyped because of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, and even the types of products they buy and clothes they wear.  Stereotyping is not something that should be practiced, because it is wrong to assume an individual’s personality or beliefs based on their looks, clothes or products they purchase.  Even though stereotyping is not something highly recommended by society, people still stereotype other people based on such shallow observations.  One example of stereotyping based on clothes is the stereotype or label of “Preppy”, “Preppie” or “Prep” given to individuals who wear clothes sold by stores like Abercrombie & Fitch, Hollister and American Eagle.

The word “preppy” actually came about in the 1950’s, and it derived from “preparatory schools”.  The White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, or WASP term was highly associated with the term “preppy”.  The WASP community was mostly high-class individuals who attended such prestigious schools and dressed in a laid-back, yet luxurious clothing of brands such as Lacoste and Lilly Pulitzer.   This style was then re-launched by stores like Abercrombie & Fitch in a more affordable price for teenagers of modern days that belong to the middle and higher social classes.  The preppy kids back in the 1950’s where actually members of high-class societies, went to Ivy League colleges and universities and private preparatory schools, they owed yachts and boats, and could afford expensive taste such as Ralph Lauren.  The preppy kids nowadays do not form part of such high-class and do not own expensive boats or attend prestigious colleges and schools, but they can afford to look like they belong to the same high-class as the 1950’s preppy kids because of stores like Abercrombie & Fitch.

Abercrombie and fitch Paris summer 2011 advert...

Image by cattias.photos via Flickr

Abercrombie & Fitch Users and Stereotypes

I do believe that users and consumers of Abercrombie & Fitch clothing identify with the “preppy” stereotype.  The Abercrombie & Fitch crowds are labeled by others as “preppy”, and they do not consider this an insult, but instead a compliment.  “Preppy” kids are usually the popular kids in high schools who are concerned with looks, popularity and material possessions.  Even though some of them do not belong to high social class, they like thinking that they look that way.  The reality is that Abercrombie & Fitch is not actually a real “preppy” store, because they are not as expensive as the real “preppy” clothes like Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Tommy Hilfiger, etc.  However, the style does look like the more expensive stores.

Abercrombie and fitch Paris summer 2011 advert...

Image by cattias.photos via Flickr

Stereotypes and Sales

The “preppy” stereotype helps Abercrombie & Fitch sales.  Mainly because most middle-class teenagers who wish to belong in the popular group may not be able to afford the real expensive “preppy” brands like Lacoste.  Therefore, they will choose to shop at Abercrombie & Fitch because the clothing looks like the more expensive clothing and has the same “preppy” style, but it is much more affordable for teenage kids with a middle-class allowance.  The more they wish to fit in to the popular crowd the more clothing they will buy from stores like Abercrombie & Fitch.  The “preppy wannabe” crowd purchase clothing from Abercrombie & Fitch basically because of the way it makes them feel.  The clothing makes them feel like they belong in the “preppy” crowd.

The image of Abercrombie & Fitch today.

Image via Wikipedia

Stereotypes in the Advertising Campaigns

The Abercrombie & Fitch advertising campaigns most definitely intentionally designed to target the “preppy” and “preppy wannabe” crowds.  If we look at their advertisement and images placed throughout their stores we can appreciate the intent of the ads through their design, and specifically the scale of the photographs being displayed at each store.  Most of their advertisement feature clean-shaved, clean-cut, muscular, slim body, Caucasian, good-looking people.  These are the typical characteristics that fit the “preppy” individuals.  Another major effort from this company to keep the advertisement targeted at “preppy” teenagers is the fact that they hire people who fit into this stereotype to work in their stores.  There have even been lawsuits against the company because they would not hire a Muslim individual, according to her, because of her headscarf.  There was another case of another teenager who claimed they would not let her work outside of the back storage of an Abercrombie and Fitch store because of her prosthetic arm.

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