US youth fashion brand American Apparel became famous the globe over for its casual, affordable clothes and raunchy, sexually charged marketing campaigns featuring, what appeared to be, underage teen models.
Yesterday it was announced the brand had filed for voluntary bankruptcy amid plummeting sales and, supposedly, fierce competition from new global budget players such as H&M, Zara and Uniqlo that had eroded its youth credentials.
In mid-last year the company sacked controversial founder and CEO Dov Charney amid allegations of sexual harassment and a view his marketing strategy had become cheap, overtly sexual and was driving customers to the other, safer brands.
A new CEO was appointed – Paula Schneider – who set herself the task of creating less risqué clothing lines and far safer ad campaigns.
However, one branding consultant believes American Apparel customers revelled in the raunch and the decision to play it safe (both in marketing and range) has, ultimately, backfired.
This is the view of Neil Saunders, CEO of consulting firm Conlumino, who’s written a column in favour of the brazen and sexualised styles of its past. Writing in America’s Business Insider Saunders said: “I think the biggest error was not adjusting with the times in terms of both brand image and ranges.
“Big questions remain around both brand and product. On the former, it is still not clear what American Apparel is trying to change to. We know that the company is looking to be more ethical in its marketing, relying far less on the sexual overtones it has used in the past. However, as welcome as this may be, it does mean that a fresh viewpoint is needed in order to give the company a clear and cohesive brand image.”
Saunders also cites another controversial US brand – Abercrombie & Fitch – who bowed to complaints to curtail its controversial and risqué marketing only to see loyal customers shop elsewhere.
An article from B&T from September 2014 quoted Abercrombie & Fitch marketers as saying: “The brand, once worn as a status symbol among American teenagers and college kids, is no longer viewed as elite and prestigious — and Abercrombie is well aware of that. Earlier this year, the company removed references to “East Coast traditions and Ivy League heritage” and words like “sexy,” “idolised,” and “privileged,” from its corporate filings, and replaced them with phrases such as “confident and engaging” and “totally accessible.”