After 127 Years, Abercrombie & Fitch Tries New Marketing Approach: Body Positivity

'Face Your Fierce' campaign conveys coolness is for everyone

abercrombie and fitch models
Abercrombie's new models "made their mark on the world by living as their most authentic, brave and Fierce selves." Abercrombie
Headshot of Mónica Marie Zorrilla

This year, Abercrombie & Fitch is taking another step to ensure it’s no longer the exclusive outfitter for the thin, popular girls and bronzed, muscular jocks that ruled your high school in the early aughts.

The Ohio-based retailer is famous for its cozy cable knit sweaters, distressed jeans, in-your-face moose logo, the signature “aroma” of its brick-and-mortar shops, and—at least before 2015—bags covered in shirtless 20-somethings with rock-hard abs. Now, the clothing maker is attempting to change its image, starting with an entirely different marketing approach to promote the relaunch of its Fierce fragrance line: body positivity.

"A&F is different from what it meant in 1998. The world has changed, and we've needed to change along with it."
Carey Krug, svp of marketing, Abercrombie & Fitch

The 2020 #FaceYourFierce campaign to promote the six different Fierce fragrances stars a 24-person cast of professional athletes, dancers, activists, authors, community trailblazers, actors, performers, models, creatives, journalists, entrepreneurs and comedians who have “made their mark on the world by living as their most authentic, brave and Fierce selves,” per a statement from the 127-year-old company.

The “Fierce Family” includes: World champion soccer player Megan Rapinoe; trans model, actress and dancer Leyna Bloom; Houston ballet soloist Harper Watters; and professional surfer Jojo Roper.

While A&F is not known for its inclusion of plus-size models or LGBTQ+ faces, svp of marketing Carey Krug stressed to Adweek that the retailer has, in fact, made significant strides toward being more diverse in terms of both sizing and charitable efforts for the past decade.

Krug pointed to A&F’s parent company, Abercrombie & Fitch Co., and its long history of supporting the LGBTQ+ community through the Trevor Project, an organization that works with LGBTQ youth in crisis, donating over $1 million (along with A&F customers) to the organization over the past 10 years.

“We have ranked as a best place to work for the LGBTQ+ community by the Human Rights Campaign for 14 consecutive years, and have also received a perfect score on HRC’s workplace equality index. We have offered same-sex spousal benefits for over a decade,” Krug added.

Throughout the yearlong campaign, cast members will share their experiences of body positivity, self-empowerment, equality and determination, all to inspire customers to explore the unexpected and emotional aspects of their “inner fierceness.” Cast members have already taken to their social platforms and begun the storytelling, along with images of themselves modeling in the campaign.

“This evolution has been a journey for some years,” Krug said. “A&F is different from what it meant in 1998. The world has changed, and we’ve needed to change along with it.”

Part of this journey has to do with “new leadership,” Krug said, alluding to the alienating former CEO Michael Jeffries, who outright admitted to Salon in a 2006 interview that A&F only wanted “cool, good-looking people” to shop there, leading to fierce backlash. Adweek even deemed A&F the World’s Most Hated Clothing Brand in 2014.

Jeffries stepped down in 2014 following disappointing sales.

Last year, A&F relaunched the Fierce line of six colognes and fragrances by focusing on exploring the notion of what it means to be “fierce” through a more sensitive, diverse and inclusive lens. That campaign featured Napoleon Jinnies, the first male NFL pro cheerleader; Elyse Fox, founder of Sad Girls Club; and the Malibu volunteer firefighters.

The relaunch contributed to the fragrance’s best comparable sales in over five years.

The “Face Your Fierce” multimedia campaign will live throughout the entire A&F ecosystem—the in-store experience, pop-up shops, podcasts, a limited-edition fragrance bottle and a limited customized Fierce bottle.

@monicroqueta Mónica is a breaking news reporter at Adweek.