Abercrombie & Fitch, the US youth apparel company, is paying to distance itself from the controversial cast of MTV’s Jersey Shore, fearing that images of its stars sporting its clothing will tarnish the brand.
Jersey Shore, a US reality television show, has generated a cult following over the past two years, featuring a group of mostly Italian-Americans carousing in New Jersey, Miami and Florence, Italy. While the show has triggered criticisms that it is overly lewd, it has also spawned imitations around the world and the premiere of its latest series earlier this month drew nearly 10m viewers.
Abercrombie said that when it learnt of Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino wearing its clothing in a recent episode, it decided that he was an ill-suited ambassador for the brand.
“We are deeply concerned that Mr Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image,” the company said. “We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand and may be distressing to many of our fans.”
Abercrombie said that it has offered a “substantial” payment to Mr Sorrentino and the MTV producers of the show in exchange for him opting to wear other brands. The company said it extended the offer to the rest of the cast and is awaiting a response.
The move highlights the damage that negative brand association can have on a company. Abercrombie is known for edgy marketing campaigns featuring young models, often wearing little clothing.
“Management may be correct in asking and offering to pay the cast of Jersey Shore to stop donning its logo-wear,” said Brian Sozzi, retail analyst at Wall Street Strategies. “It doesn’t need the infusion of MTV and side-job dollars from the Jersey Shore crew.”
Abercrombie on Wednesday reported robust second-quarter results, with net income up 64 per cent year on year to $32m, or 37 cents a share. In spite of that performance, the company’s shares fell nearly 8 per cent to $65.67 in midday trading.
On a conference call with analysts, Mike Jefferies, chief executive, seemed most interested in discussing the situation with “The Situation”. After urging them to inquire, he said that when executives heard about Mr Sorrentino wearing the company’s logo they said: ”That’s terrible. What are we going to do about it?”
He said, however, that the company was having some “fun” with the decision to pay Mr Sorrentino to avoid the brand.
An MTV spokeswoman suggested that Abercrombie’s move was a marketing ploy intended to get the attention of Jersey Shore viewers.
“It’s a clever PR stunt and we’d love to work with them on other ways they can leverage Jersey Shore to reach the largest youth audience on television,” she said.
For Abercrombie, the decision to separate itself from Mr Sorrentino appears to be an about-face. In an interview with New York magazine a year ago, Mr Sorrentino said that he had ties with Abercrombie.
“My name, or my character, is known worldwide now,” Mr Sorrentino told the magazine. “Abercrombie & Fitch, their most popular shirt, they told me, is ‘Fitchuation.’ I mean, where did they get that from? Obviously from myself.”
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