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PR as performance art

The Situation Stock Photo

Imagine a room full of clothing company executives, all of them sweating furiously about a particularly un-cool TV star who’s wearing their brand. “We’ll pay him to stop wearing our clothes!” they declare. This week somebody at Abercrombie & Fitch though it would be funny to put that picture in people’s heads.

After the market closed on Tuesday, A&F put out this (misdated) press release:

ABERCROMBIE & FITCH PROPOSES A WIN-WIN SITUATION

New Albany, Ohio, August 12, 2011: Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYSE: ANF) today reported that it has offered compensation to Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino, a character in MTV’s TV show The Jersey Shore to cease wearing A&F products.

A spokesperson for Abercrombie & Fitch commented:
“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. We have therefore offered a substantial payment to Michael ‘The Situation’ Sorrentino and the producers of MTV’s The Jersey Shore to have the character wear an alternate brand. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast, and are urgently waiting a response.”

A predictable outcome followed: The announcement was swiftly devoured by social media, blogs, and the press.

I think this is brilliant. (Plenty of smart marketers disagree. Over at Adweek, a reader poll about whether this was great PR or a cheap shot was split down the middle.)

Here’s why I like it.

  • A&F’s goal was to get attention. Their strategy was to play with people’s expectations. It was funny. It worked.
  • The targeting was perfect. This funny announcement led to countless impressions of the A&F brand on young customers who keep up with “The Jersey Shore”—an audience savy enough to appreciate a little hoodwinkery and faux conflict.
  • It manipulated the media in a way that comes close to performance art. I’m serious. This kind of stunt is really, really hard to get right.
  • The backlash was minor. It included a TMZ story connecting the press release to a dip in A&F’s stock price (the timing was probably a coincidence) and saying it didn’t appear A&F had actually contacted The Situation.

The biggest downside to this stunt is the risk that people might actually think A&F is in a fight at a popular MTV character. You know: The chance that someone might actually take your press release at face value.

On second thought, that’s pretty unlikely.

* * * *

Bonus 1: Previously in mutually beneficial fights with celebrities…

The first thing that came to mind when I read the A&F statement was Carvel’s hilarious 2010 press release about giving free ice cream to Ali and Lindsay Lohan. (“Unfortunately, the Lohan family has been abusing the card… After more than six months of numerous and large orders for ice cream, we finally had to cut off the card and take it back.”)

* * * *

Bonus 2: Alternate, rejected headlines for this post

  • Abercrombie & Sitch
  • Situation normal, all Fitched up
  • Fitch to Sitch: Get a new jersey
* * * *

— Thanks to Jeremy for the tip.
Photo of The Situation: Joe Seer / Shutterstock.com

— By Daryl Lang. Filed under Marketing, News & Journalism

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