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Sticks and stones may break your bones…

Sticks and stones may break your bones…

…But a bad quote may haunt you forever.

Mike Jeffries, CEO of the trendy young adult brand Abercrombie & Fitch, learned that this month as a quote from a 2006 interview with Salon resurfaced within a May 2013 article in Business Insider.

His 2006 quotation illustrated his “exclusionary” idea of his best customer. Unfortunately, his description rejects most of the American population and puts yet another chip on the shoulder of the teenage self-image problem. The published statement in 2006 made ripples in the media, but nothing like the tidal wave the 2013 edition
has caused.

Here’s why:

Jeffries didn’t make a sufficient apology for his original remarks. When foot-in-mouth disease happens to even the most well-meaning spokespeople, the public is generally more forgiving if a suitable and prompt apology or retraction is made. Jeffries’ first attempt at an apology for the 2006 remarks was issued on May 15th, 2013, blaming the context of the republished interview.

The brand hasn’t evolved with its customer. America’s youth has a new look, and Abercrombie’s peers are adapting to it. While many retailers catering to young adults have added additional sizes to accommodate every customer, Abercrombie competitor H&M recently took it a step further by casting plus sized models in their swimwear advertising.

Right now, Abercrombie & Fitch has given us nothing to show that they are adapting to a new idea of beauty and are becoming accepting of the changing world around them. The remarks may be old, but their actions remain indicative of their current ideals.

Social media moves the message. In 2006, Facebook was still in its infancy, and social media wasn’t a player in the news media as it is today. Since the resurfaced quote published, the news has spread rapidly, and most social-sharers seem to believe that the words are freshly out of Jeffries’ mouth. Viral video is also a factor; campaigns circulating the internet suggest that Abercrombie-wearers give their clothing to homeless people. Outspoken celebrities like Kirstie Alley are tweeting their two cents and keeping the seven-year-old story fresh.

Abercrombie & Fitch has a long road to recovery for their public relations transgressions, but it is not impossible for them to reinvent. While time can truly heal, sincere acknowledgement and evidence of change in their opinions may be the best medicine for sinking sales. The public is reacting strongly that the “cool kid” mentality is no longer acceptable, and it’s time for Jeffries to take note and take action.