Abercrombie & Fitch

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Advertising assistant professor Kate Pounders’ research was recently published in an August online issue of the “Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.”
Photo Credit: Cristina Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Clothing stores that hire similar-looking employees may alienate customers, according to a study conducted by professors from the Moody College of Communication.

Advertising faculty — assistant professor Kate Pounders, associate professor Angeline Close and Barry Babin, a Louisiana Tech University professor — published their research on an August online issue of the “Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.”

According to Pounders, clothing store Abercrombie & Fitch’s specific “look policy” initially inspired the research. She and her team wondered if this had a positive or negative impact on their sales and if their customers felt comfortable when visiting their stores.

“We found that this is not a good strategy,” Pounders said. “If customers see that they don’t fit, they feel uncomfortable, and there’s not a lot of purchase attention.”

However, Babin said this look policy has both positive and negative effects. He said, if the service provider, such as the store or restaurant, seemed as if it was forcing people to look a certain way, they would have bad feedback, but, if the employees were genuine and looked happy altogether, they would have positive feedback.

“A lot of different places have some policies that requires their employees to have a certain look,” Pounders said. “Even store headquarters ask for mug shots of prospective employees to see if they are a good fit.”

Despite having the research based on Abercrombie & Fitch, Pounders said they also found there were other companies following this look-policy, such as some airlines and restaurants.

Researchers found there should be a certain awareness to the practice of aesthetic labor, which is when workers are employed by a company for their appearance. Pounders said the appearance stores want includes not only clothing style, but also physical features such as height, hair and eye color.

“We found that the policy was created to reinforce a brand,” Pounders said. “However, stores such as Abercrombie & Fitch are not doing very well on the market.”

Pounders said the research is the first piece of marketing literature, and the researchers have been recently contacted by MarketWatch. 

Babin said the team discovered consumers tend to compare themselves to employees, and, if they cannot relate to them, they start to feel inferior.

“I hope this research would get service providers thinking on the issue because some people can see the look policy as discrimination,” Babin said.

Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino poses at GQ magazine’s 2010 “Men of the Year” party in Los Angeles.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW YORK — The Situation doesn’t usually require a lot of motivation to lose the shirt. But Abercrombie & Fitch wants him to go one further — the company has offered to pay “Jersey Shore” cast members to stop wearing clothes carrying their brand.

The preppy teen retailer said Tuesday it would pay a “substantial payment” to Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino or any cast member who stops wearing its clothing on the popular MTV reality show because the series is “contrary to the aspirational nature of the brand.”

“We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image,” the retailer said in a press release.

It may seem strange that a brand that employs half-naked models to stand outside its flagship stores and courted controversy with racy catalogs has come out with such an aggressive campaign against the hard partying cast of “Jersey Shore.”

But the audacious approach is getting the teen retailer tons of publicity during the crucial back-to-school season, the second biggest shopping period of the year. The CEO says it’s having fun with the ploy, and marketing experts say the company may wind up laughing all the way to the bank.

“It gets their name further out into the marketplace with one of the hottest brands on TV right now at the peak of the back-to-school season,” said Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi. “It’s free marketing. Because the approach is so ridiculous, everybody’s talking about it.”

Brands usually embrace celebrities or performers who adopt their products in an unsolicited, organic way because of all the attention it can drum up. But sometimes they can have an uneasy relationship.

When hip hop stars unofficially adopted luxury champagne Cristal as their drink of choice several years ago, for example, the relationship seemed cozy at first. But after a company executive made derogatory comments about hip hop culture, high profile rappers like Jay-Z boycotted it.

Still, unexpected adaptation can be beneficial. When an urban audience adopted ultra-preppy Tommy Hilfiger clothes, the brand ended up expanding massively. And now Tommy Hilfiger’s son even is a rapper.

The cast of “Jersey Shore” don’t exactly consist of the kind of role models most brands covet. Now filming its fifth season, the show has won millions of viewers who tune in to watch a group of hard-partying, foul-mouthed 20- and 30-somethings hanging out, hooking up and behaving raucously.

Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino is one of the most popular, and outrageous, cast members, boasting of a “gym-tan-laundry” routine and lifting his shirt to show off his abs at every opportunity.

Abercrombie CEO Mike Jeffries said the offer to pay cast members came about when someone alerted him Sorrentino was wearing Abercrombie & Fitch on the show. In an Aug. 11 episode, Sorrentino wears neon green AF-label sweat pants.
Abercrombie has not disclosed the offering price. But Jeffries struck a light tone about the offer.

“We are having a lot of fun with it,” he said in a conference call with analysts Wednesday.

MTV called the move a “clever PR stunt” by Abercrombie. “We’d love to work with them on other ways they can leverage ‘Jersey Shore’ to reach the largest youth audience on television,” the network said Wednesday in a statement.

The news came as Abercrombie, based in New Albany, Ohio, reported strong second-quarter results, fueled by international growth.

Sorrentino did not return requests for comment and there was no word at press time whether anyone in the cast accepted the offer.

Printed on Friday, August 26, 2011 as: Retailer asks Jersey Shore stars to change their clothes.

Growing up, summertime always meant swimming pools, sleep-away camp and girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch. But as I got older, my parents’ attitude about my favorite time of year shifted from “go out and play” to “go out and get a damn job.”

And I did.

For the most part, they were horrible.

While some provided me with a helpful blip on my resume, most of my summer jobs gave me nothing more than sunburns and a few funny stories.

Since you’ve already made it this far, I suppose I’ll share a couple of these stories with you.

The summer of my sophomore year I interned at a media organization I believe I’m contractually obligated not to name. They may or may not be last in ratings in their respective nightly time slot. I worked upward of 40 hours a week for $10 a day. Interestingly, it wasn’t this that made me feel like a peasant — it was how I was treated by my boss. I was yelled at, shooed away, and I don’t recall one point during the summer of her looking me in the eye while giving me orders. One day she summoned me to her office and when I entered, she handed me a dollar bill and told me to go to a parking garage and find a guy named Mark, who would have something for me. Before I could ask her any questions she shut the door to her office, insisting she was busy. I assumed that I was either picking up important footage or otherwise involved in a very low stakes drug deal.

After finding the right parking garage (there were at least four at the intersection she told me to go to), and finding the right Mark (there were at least three that worked at the parking garage), I was presented with a plastic sack. I now understood what the dollar bill was for and handed it to Mark as a tip. I open the plastic bag to discover that I had not been sent out that morning to retrieve important footage or crack cocaine, but rather my boss’s lunch. I promptly closed my eyes and bowed my head in disappointment and thought to myself, “This lady better write me a damn good letter of recommendation.” (Her secretary wrote it for her.)

While this experience was slightly humiliating, I at least got practical work experience from it. This could not be said of another summer job I had during college as a bounce house operator for children’s birthday parties. While the job itself is not listed on my resume, I learned more about life, love and the American Dream during that long summer of hauling bouncey castles around town than I did from just about all my other college experiences combined. The job basically required me to go to houses, explain to drunk parents why their children shouldn’t be in the bounce house during lightning storms and make balloon animals (which admittedly gave me great satisfaction), all while dressed up like a wizard. In exchange for my dignity, I got covered in dirt, but not tips.

I’ll never forget working at one birthday party for a 9-year-old. I was set up outside the bounce house — making sure only six kids entered at a time, that they were all close in age and that they didn’t try to kill each other too graphically inside the contraption — and taking requests to create accurate depictions of Joe Jonas out of elongated balloons. A strong candidate for Mother of the Year walked up to the bounce house and placed her roughly 2-year-old child inside while I was talking to another parent. I told her that she needed to remove the child because there were multiple kids currently engaged in a Civil War re-enactment inside, and it was dangerous for a young child that could barely walk to be in a bounce house with older kids. She waved me away and insisted that the child would be fine, probably assuming that she could always just procreate again. The company I worked for had strict rules about not touching the kids at the parties, so I did my best to try to call the child to the entrance of the bounce castle as other kids flew all around him. The child looked at me quizzically, and in a moment I will never forget for as long as I live, he reached in his diaper and pulled out a hot dog ... and then began to eat it. For safety, but more so for sanitary reasons, this was not a good thing. The kid began going to town on the hot dog while walking toward me, and then he stopped and sure enough, he regurgitated the hot dog all over the bounce house. It was at this point he began crying. I removed him from the castle, and the drunken parental onlookers had a mighty chuckle.

I did not receive a tip.

These are a couple of my better summer job experiences, and I encourage you to share any summer job stories that you may have in the comments section of this column.

Treadway is a UT alumnus.