The complaint is that the cast and particularly Mike ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino are not the kind of aspirational role models with whom Abercrombie and Fitch wish to be associated and are therefore damaging the brand’s identity.
A statement from Abercrombie and Fitch reads: “We are deeply concerned that Mr Sorrentino’s association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image.
“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.”
The mostly Italian American cast of Jersey Shore certainly bare little resemblance to the blandly beautiful, preppy, all American models Abercrombie and Fitch favour in their campaigns.
The company themselves describe it’s brand as “rooted in East Coast traditions and Ivy League heritage” and “the essence of privilege and casual luxury”.
The statement then could be dismissed as simple snobbery. After all, Mike Sorrentino, reportedly ‘earned’ $60,000 per episode of ‘Jersey Shore’ last year and regularly tops up his income commanding an appearance fee of $15,000 to $50,000, essentially for flashing his abs. He’s what Ivy Leaguers would call ‘new money’.
Although it is easier than ever to become ‘famous’ – there is little talent or even purpose required anymore – celebrities have never had so much brand power and are increasingly used instead of models simply because they are far more bankable.
‘Unofficial’ (i.e. uncontracted and unpaid for by the product’s manufacturers) endorsement by a celebrity is marketing gold. The celebrities aren’t being paid to represent your brand, they are under no contractual obligation and therefore in the minds of the public, they must be a genuine fan and customer.
For this reason, designers send thousands upon thousands of pounds worth of free items to celebrities in the hope that they will be seen wearing a particular dress, carrying the right handbag or playing for their team wearing the brand’s latest football boots.
But here’s the catch – companies have very specific requirements for those who make the grade and crucially they must have an image which is in keeping with the brand’s ethos. It must be said that, on the surface at least, ‘The Situation’ is not a good fit for the Ivy League image of Abercrombie and Fitch.
But that isn’t the whole story.
This story has garnered Abercrombie and Fitch substantial free coverage. It has made international news and has gained the brand the kind of controversial exposure it is usually excluded from due to its Ivy League image.
It may be that Abercrombie and Fitch genuinely want to control who is endorsing their products, or it may be that the entire issue has actually been a publicity stunt used to draw attention to the fact that the young hip cast of an MTV show favour the brand.
Time will tell whether Sorrentino and co switch labels but the stand Abercrombie and Fitch have taken will please their more traditional customers while promoting a link with a show and celebrities they outwardly deem ‘unsuitable’ thus appealing to a whole new audience. Clever.