Why it didn’t surprise me that Abercrombie & Fitch is downsizing its branding.
Jes Baker changed Abercrombie’s logo into “Attractive & Fat” to challenge the brand targeting the “cool” kids.
It’s the quintessential joke when you work in advertising and mimic an annoying client; “Can you make the logo bigger?” Clients often want the logo bigger because they’re afraid the consumer won’t know who the sender of the message is. They don’t realise though that big logos most of the time trigger an unconscious aversion. In the mind of many consumers a big logo equals cheap – in every meaning of the word.
So I wasn’t really surprised when last week Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO, Mike Jeffries, told the press that his (very) American fashion brand reduces the Abercrombie logo on its garments in the U.S. to “practically nothing.”
This didn’t surprise me because I recognized a pattern; a cycle many fashion brands have gone through. Tommy Hilfiger is a famous example. Diesel experienced it. And recently our own Dutch pride G-Star has been there.
The cycle I am talking about goes more or less like this (in a simplified way, I have to admit):
You start small, with a unique vision, a niche in the market and well-defined target group. In 2006 Jeffries formulated it like this: “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends.” You can say about it what you want, but this is what I call positioning a brand.
At this point in your cycle, you can easily use a small logo cause the people that wear your clothes wear it because they simply love the personality of your brand. Another reason you don’t have to worry about size is that those who are in the know will spot your logo easily, even when used subtly. In fact, this is what keeps the brand exclusive.
When the brand’s disciplined and focused marketing efforts start to pay off, the brand slowly grows into a wider group. A group that isn’t necessarily your core target, but sits around the edges. In Abercrombie’s case, not the geeks and the creative types, of course, but those who are kinda cool and look up to the ‘attractive-all-American-greatness.’ By wearing the same clothes this group can relatively easily adopt the target group’s popularity.
Now with a larger market share and more cash flow, the brand starts to invest (more) in advertising. And, in Abercrombie’s case, open flagship stores that look like exclusive clubs; hardly any lighting inside, loud music, a red carpet and even a door bitch. Though this clearly communicates exclusivity, the brand is now making itself known to the masses.
The fashion brand at this point also starts to make its logo bigger, so that the masses are willing to spend more than they normally do on a piece of clothing. What sells really well are the (relatively cheap) t-shirts with chest-wide logos on it.
Some brands are smart and during this stage create a “diffusion brand” or, simply put, a cheaper sibling. With this sibling they go for a younger, less wealthy audience. Think DK/DKNY or Giorgio Armani/ Emporio Armani.
Anyway, the short-term gain of the bigger logo is that the masses jump on your brand. It spreads like wildfire and the sales go through the roof. When you are doing really ‘well’ your brand starts to appear on shabby, counterfeit markets in third world countries.
The catch however is that where small logos on garments equal exclusivity, big logos equal “look at me, I have money to spend.” Paradoxically though the people who actually do have money to spend, don’t have to show it. At least, not with a big logo on a basic t-shirt. The fact that they are wealthy is obvious in many other ways.
And then your brand reaches the final stage of its cycle; in a relatively short time the brand has become the opposite of exclusive. In fact, it has become ‘cheap.’ Therefore it loses its core target group – the one that once liked it for its exclusivity – and it implodes.
And that’s when the CEO realises the logo needs to be reduced to “practically nothing” and humbly start all over again – almost, that is.
It is the natural cycle of fashion brands that, instead of being steadily guided by a long-term strategic vision, at some point become too greedy and blinded by short-term profits.
So, my advice, always keep the logo smaller.