Products are over. What idea are you selling?

Abercrombie_one
there was a queue to get into the new Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store in London yesterday.  at least a couple of dozen excited young things were happily waiting their turn to get the opportunity to spend their pocket money in America’s latest retail export.

the launch of the store (the first outside the Americas) has generated significant word of mouth and editorial coverage despite a limited media spend.  the discussion has come about not from the clothes on the shelves, but from the beautiful young things stacking them.

much of the discussion has been negative; the brand shamelessly exploits the idea of the body beautiful – typified by David and Peter Sheath from Swansea who meet and greet the bright young things in nothing but low hung jeans and flip-flops.  it would be easy to dismiss such coverage as a PR failing, but its almost certainly quite the opposite.

in A&F’s pursuit of communicating their brand of beautiful bright young men, they are selling much more than a few preppy clothes.  they’re selling an idea.  you’re understanding of the brand isn’t about clothes at all…  but rather – perhaps – the very nature of beauty.  and whether your take on this is aspirational, envy or just bemusement – what’s important is that you almost certainly will have a take on it.

when brands stand for something, they compellingly invite us to have an opinion.  and in doing so they win some headspace.  and that’s rather valuable.  A&F’s body beautiful is in a very real sense the anti-real beauty campaign from Dove.  if you haven’t seen their Evolution creative execution, watch it now…

both these brands stand for something.  and both – whilst the success of A&F in the UK is to be seen – are doing rather well as a result.  this is telling in a week that saw the retail chain Next  announce that like for like sales were down 7.2%.  selling products – certainly for many high street retailers – isn’t enough any more.  there’s too much on and offline competition to rely on the products to do all of the talking.  brands that stand for something – that sell an idea – get noticed.  thats why there was a queue to get into the A&F store yesterday, and thats why anyone working on a brand that doesn’t know what it stands for, should be very nervous.

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