Case study: The rise and fall of Abercrombie and Fitch in Australia

The increasing saturation of advertising communications within our environment has made it more difficult for businesses to get their promotional messages through to consumers. This has prompted a discussion of how brands may successfully leverage sensory branding across the marketing mix. The following article will analyse how Abercrombie and Fitch (A&F) have incorporated sensory experiences across the four marketing mix dimensions of place, product, price and promotions and how it has failed to tap in to the lucrative Australian market.

Place

Place, referring specifically to A&F’s stand-alone retail stores and its in-store layout, plays a pivotal role in determining A&F’s success. The stores, recognised by its loud music, dim lighting, attractive staff and scent applied “as liberally as if it were a teenage boy” are perfect for the A&F brand and their adolescent target market. A&F stores are staged with lights that showcase its clothes and plunges the rest of the store into darkness. The darkness of the store, in conjunction with the fast-paced music discussed below, constructs a unique, club-like atmosphere.

A&F’s signature mens fragrance, Fierce, is sprayed in-store to create an ambient scent that the company describes as “lifestyle… packed with confidence and a bold masculine attitude”. The congruency of A&F’s fragrance to its selling proposition enhances recognition and preference by linking smell exposure with brand identification. Spangenberg et al. (1996) found that customers shopping in a scented environment felt that they had spent less time in the store compared to one with no scent, which led to a more positive evaluation of their overall shopping experience.

Sound and music can also powerfully influence consumer behaviour below the level of awareness. A&F’s uses sound as a context and its loud, fast-paced and upbeat music is likely to achieve two main objectives. Firstly, younger people enjoy and can withstand loud music for longer periods of time, while older demographics will choose to shy away from these environments. This ensures that stores are able to attract their desired youthful clientele and deter those who do not fit with A&F’s brand image. Secondly, loud music leads to sensory overload, which tends to weaken self-control and increases the likelihood of impulsive purchases.

Price and Product

Given its established brand, A&F’s clothing are priced at a premium compared to its competitors. In the fashion market, higher priced items are typically associated with quality or prestige. When knowledge of intrinsic qualities, like the durability of fabric, are limited, consumers rely on extrinsic cues of pricing and brand name to aid their decision making. Coupled with its long standing pricing strategy of not placing items on sale, A&F is able to maintain its premium pricing, limiting their target clientele and not devaluing their brand.

Promotions

A&F billboard ad

A&F’s infamous promotions technique of hiring model-like sales staff has become an integral part of their brand. The presence of attractive personnel wearing A&F’s clothing leads to a higher degree of emotional arousal that captures our attention. This creates a ‘halo effect’; beautiful salespeople often means that we associate favourable traits, such as attractiveness and kindness, with the products they sell.

The majority of A&F’s advertisements are print billboards that display greyscale provocative images of young men and women (see above). These posters seek to capture consumers’ attention through emotional arousal. Ironically, it is the controversy over such advertisements that generate the greatest publicity and is the main source of A&F’s promotions.

Exit from Australia

A&F has a market capitalisation of $US1.4 billion and operates nearly 1,000 stores globally. Previously, A&F joined a host of other international brands like TopShop, H&M and Uniqlo who have opened up in Australia in the past three years. However, earlier this month, A&F announced that it will be closing its two Sydney and Melbourne stores after failing to attract the local market. Net sales were down 14 per cent to $US1.12 billion in the fourth quarter and compartive store sales fell 10% overall.

Given A&F’s successful differentiation in their marketing campaigns, it is surprising to hear this. The executive chairman, Arthur Martinez, has admitted that the Australian market was “even more challenging than expected” even after allowing for the seasonality changes of operating in the southern hemisphere. The loss of economies of scale in their production line could be factor. However, one of the most significant issues is Abercrombie’s failure to localise their market offering. Perhaps using Australian models or scenic landmarks would have been a better fit to their marketing promotions, or perhaps undertaking local social marketing campaigns to build higher relevance amongst their target audience would have also helped.

Either way, I don’t think this will be the last we see of Abercrombie and Fitch.

 

 

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