Noting that it doesn't encourage underage or binge drinking, Abercrombie & Fitch, Reynoldsburg, OH, announced this week that it will take out a controversial two-page story titled “Drinking 101” from its new magalog, the A&F Quarterly.
“Abercrombie & Fitch is a lifestyle brand, and that lifestyle is the college student. Although our customers range from [ages] 15 to 50, the college student is the key focus,” said company spokesman Lonnie Fogel. “To the extent that drinking is part of the college experience, it is appropriate editorial content. I think where we erred is that while it lists several drinking recipes, it looked as if this was part of a drinking game. In retrospect, that was not something we wanted to defend.”
Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which had publicly criticized the article commended the company for its decision to delete the article. The controversy put Abercrombie & Fitch in the national spotlight with MADD national president Karolyn Nunnallee calling for a recall of the catalog on NBC's “Today” show.
However, industry watchers said the attention may be a mixed blessing.
“I think it will affect sales on the positive side,” said catalog consultant Maxwell Sroge, president of Maxwell Sroge Co., Evanston, IL.
Indeed, sales of the magalog — which features articles mixed in with the items for sale — are up 40 percent from the first quarter. However, Fogel said the rise can't be attributed directly to the controversy as the magalog's circulation has risen steadily since it was introduced a year ago. The magalog costs $5 an issue or $10 for a yearly subscription.
The company received complaints about the drinking article as well as ones that were sexual in nature, but it also received many calls in support of the editorial content, Fogel said.
“What they were trying to do was reach a certain market and talk the talk of that market so they could build a relationship,” said Sroge, who felt the incident was overhyped. “In retrospect, they shouldn't have done it, but what they did was very innocent.”
In a statement, Michael Jeffries, chairman/CEO of Abercrombie & Fitch, said, “Our company does not support irresponsible or underage drinking and we want to make that clear to our customers and the general public.”
The company also stated that if alcohol is the topic of future articles, it will be balanced with a message to “be responsible, be 21 and don't ever drink and drive.” It will send postcards to all customers who received the catalog through the mail saying it didn't intend to encourage binge drinking.
“We want to plug our readers in to what's new and what's coming. We don't want to lose anybody to thoughtlessness and stupidity,” the postcard will state.