Abercrombie & Fitch takes its ads to TV

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Abercrombie & Fitch, experimenting with an online sales site, this fall moves from an all-print marketing strategy to its first TV campaign.

The effort will be previewed in an ad in the September issue of Vanity Fair. The commercials begin airing Sept. 4 on cable TV networks and via in-store videos.


Each of the three TV spots were shot by photographer Bruce Weber, who has done the photography for A&F's print advertising and catalogs.

Until now, A&F has limited its marketing to a relatively small print campaign running in four magazines: Interview, Out, Rolling Stone and Vanity Fair. That budget was estimated at $2 million.

A&F also puts out a quarterly magazine/catalog hybrid.

Sam Shahid, president-creative director of agency Shahid & Co., as well as marketing director for A&F, said each TV commercial will have separate but related story lines.

Mr. Shahid and Mr. Weber worked together in the mid-1980s, when Mr. Shahid was creative director of the in-house ad shop at Calvin Klein.

Along with the previous magazine campaign, A&F also has sought controversy to make the most of its limited marketing resources. Last year, its quarterly--with a $12 subscription price although distributed free to more than 1 million households--ran stories on topics such as streaking and Drinking 101, a game with a list of potent alcoholic libations.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving argued that the piece was encouraging underage drinking, which generated significant news coverage.

A&F did recall the books, adding a sticker urging students to "be smart and be responsible" about partying and drinking.


In part as a response to that controversy, A&F now is issuing two different publications: A&F Quarterly, which goes to an estimated 350,000 paid subscribers, and a catalog that uses Quarterly photos but not the stories and is distributed free to about 1.5 million households, Mr. Shahid said.

Executives working on the project believe paid subscribers are less likely to complain about content; students, or their parents, receiving the book free are more likely to view the articles as offensive, since the publication was unsolicited.

The free catalog isn't without the potential for controversy. Themed "Semester abroad," it has Mr. Weber's photos of students in London, hanging out in a library, dancing with British bobbies and rowing. One photo shows three men with bushy handlebar mustaches, each wearing a handlebar-mustache- patterned necktie.

In another photo, adjacent to standard catalog-style illustrations, a couple is pressed against each other, with the man's pants draped around his ankles and his Union Jack-patterned boxer shorts extended in front of him.


Despite the distribution and publicity, only a small percentage of A&F's sales come from its catalog. The retailer hopes to add more sales with its Web site, which recently started offering a limited selection of clothes and accessories online.

Also new to the catalog this year, A&F identifies models in the ads--often popular dorm-room decorations.

Individualizing the models "gave [A&F Quarterly] a personality and made it very personable," Mr. Shahid said.

Copyright August 1999, Crain Communications Inc.

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