We all know the saying “Sex Sells”, but sometimes brands try to be a little too sexy or even sexist. There are brands out there who get it right when deemed appropriate such as the most recognizable woman’s lingerie brand, Victoria’s Secret. However, due to some controversial headlines, clothing brands like American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch need to dial back on their sexy brand image.
When it comes to branding with sex appeal, there is a significant difference in how you sell it and most importantly, who it is being sold to. Clothing brands, American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch try to appeal to teen shoppers and millennials, who just aren’t buying it.
American Apparel has always been known as a provocative and edgy brand with overtly sexual ads on billboards and magazines. The clothing brand offers very basic tees and bottoms that the American Apparel founder, Dov Charney thought to amp up the brand with their ‘reality sex’ models. But for years, Charney was faced with allegations of sexual harassment of models and employees. Finally, after multiple sexual harassment lawsuits, founder, CEO and chairman, Dov Charney was fired just last year and the new first female CEO, Paula Schneider is now stepping in.
Although American Apparel is under new leadership, Schneider wants to keep the edgy brand image but with a little less skin, while maintaining the sweatshop-free and ‘Made in the USA’ philosophy. It’s also important for American Apparel’s brand to steer away from the degrading and sexist ads, especially after the bad publicity with Dov Charney. Schneider can now stabilize the brand and empower women rather than degrading them, with a less overt sex appeal.
Abercrombie & Fitch
Just recently, the president of the Abercrombie brand, Fran Horowitz, has decide to scale back on the sexualized marketing and drop the shirtless models. The whole sex-tinged marketing is coming to an end, especially when the brand’s target buyers are teens. Abercrombie & Fitch announced that they would stop hiring sales staff on “body type or physical attractiveness.” The sales staff will also no longer be called models and will be referred to as Brand Representatives. Additionally, the company stated that there will no longer be infamous shirtless models on Abercrombie shopping bags, gift cards or in-store photos by the end of July.
The reason for the dialing back on the sex image is similar to American Apparel’s bad publicity. Previous CEO, Mike Jeffries left the company after a very controversial issue and statement that left the brand with a bad reputation. After the rejection of a job applicant who was Muslim and wore a head scarf and Jeffries controversial statement on wanting only “cool” and “good-looking” people working and shopping in his stores has tarnished the brand indefinitely. For the past decade, millennials and teen shoppers are turned off by the brand image associated with Abercrombie and are turning to a more individualistic way of dressing.
The changes made by clothing brands American Apparel and Abercrombie & Fitch says a lot when sex is their brand image. There’s a huge a difference between the sexualized brand image that Victoria Secret has created for women versus the clothing store brands that jeopardized the overly sexual brand image.
Brands that use sex as their brand image are bound to face some controversy but it does take time to develop a reputable brand. Need help developing your brand? Contact the brand developers at Ideas BIG (brand identity group) to give a complimentary brand audit. Contact Chief Branding Officer Neil Brown for details.