It may sound like a stupid question, especially as there are Brand Managers out there so there is obviously some control, but the point is that they manage the brand. They don’t control it, and they shouldn’t be expected to.
Take the recent Abercrombie & Fitch controversy. The CEO was quoted as saying that he only wanted ‘thin’ people to wear his brand’s clothes. This sparked a huge consumer backlash from the ‘beauty comes within’ brigade (of which I am one!) and has gone seriously viral, with the peak probably being the piece on The Ellen Show (see the very funny video here).
There is also a great piece on the Huffington Post that implies that one 17 year old girl has managed to affect A&F’s brand approach by staging a demonstration outside of their HQ. It then goes on to mention that NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) was also involved in that meeting. I can’t imagine them meeting with just one teenager without NEDA support. And besides, why ONE teenager? Why not a full crowd of them? And there we hit the crunch points:
1) A&F has come across as an out of date brand when it comes to its core audience – teenagers. They could have managed this much better by addressing why they think ‘thin’ is good. ie by focusing on being healthy and actually hitting back at the idea that fat is okay. Fat isn’t okay. It’s unhealthy and it causes an incredible amount of ill health in terms of Diabetes, joint failure etc. A&F could be seen as pushing teenagers to take better care of themselves. And that needs to be communicated via all their channels, rather than the news picking up on the fact that one teenager has made an impact.
2) If they want to look ‘cool’ they should be focusing their communications and brand on what their audience view as being cool. Six packs are, granted, one of them, but it’s a small shallow part and that’s one of the reasons by they’ve been lambasted by everyone. If they had focused on cool through diversity, they would be in charge of the agenda and would have more ammunition to hit back with
3) Your brand today isn’t just about what you’re doing today. It’s also about everything you’ve done in the past. One little fact that a lot of people seem to have missed is that the CEOs ‘thin’ comments were made in 2006 – SEVEN years ago. They were unearthed from an old interview.
There are two morals to this story:
1) you are not in control of your brand anymore, but you can (and should) manage it
2) go back NOW and check what your brand has been associated with and stated in the past as there is someone out there who is checking out the skeletons in your cupboard.