In its heyday, Abercrombie & Fitch was notorious for its sexy marketing campaigns.
Some of the advertisements bordered on pornographic, and its quarterly catalog was often outrageous.
And who could forget Abercrombie’s iconic shirtless men who greeted shoppers as they entered stores? Or the PG-13 shopping bags with couples wrapped up in each other’s arms, mid-kiss?
But that was in the past.
Looking at Abercrombie & Fitch’s latest campaign, the sex is noticeably absent. Amid declining sales, the teen brand has been slowly but surely chipping away at its raunchy reputation to become more palatable to the modern consumer.
Abercrombie’s efforts to rebrand have been clear. The brand has promised fewer logos, hopped on some trends, and toned down its “hot salesclerk” policy. The shirtless models are no longer greeting tourists at the New York City flagship store.
Abercrombie & Fitch isn’t the only retailer that has ditched its trademark sexual marketing.
“The most important thing they are doing is signaling a major shift,” Ruth Bernstein
American Apparel, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy this fall, was known for its sexual marketing campaigns almost as much as it was known for its notorious ex-CEO, Dov Charney. This summer, the brand’s ad campaigns were noticeably less racy.
The retailer’s Instagram feed shows how much less carnal the brand’s imagery has become. Models are no longer nearly naked and sprawled out in suggestive positions; instead, they are covered up. Necklines are higher, and hem lines are lower.
“That battle has been fought and won … you’re now one click away from every sex act imaginable for free,” Playboy CEO Scott Flanders told The New York Times.
Advertising is supposed to provoke a visceral response, and if people see sexual imagery every day, an advertisement that uses sex faces added difficulty standing out.
If a brand gets sexy imagery right, however, Bernstein believes it will continue to sell. “What is truly sexy is the key, and shifts along with the culture and every generation,” she said. “When you get it right, it still absolutely works and sells. The trick is to understanding that sexy has evolved.”
Bernstein described this new sex that has replaced the old-school sex as “a modern take on the same dynamics, that infuses meaning, that leaves room for the imagination, that allows for a greater range of identity and orientation.”
“An approach that brings in some brains to the brawn,” she added.
“It’s all been a part of a generational shift towards greater sense of empowerment and individuality,” she said. “Sex is still a very strong motivator in a lot of categories, it’s just a matter of approach.”
In other words, the shirtless in-store model approach is worn out and tired.
“As a company, we are focused on our customers and providing them with a great experience. We announced a number of changes to our policies earlier this year, including the elimination of sexualized imagery,” a spokesperson for Abercrombie & Fitch told Business Insider in a statement. “Many of these changes were based on feedback from our customers and we are pleased to see that our updated imagery is resonating with them.”
American Apparel has not yet responded to Business Insider’s request for a comment.