Abercrombie moves on from 'sex sells'

Walk past the Abercrombie & Fitch store in Orchard Road, and one might notice that the famous shirtless hunks are no longer at the door to greet customers.

The American casual-wear brand, notorious for its sexy advertisements and attractive in-store associates, or "models" as they are called, has pulled the use of shirtless staff at its stores and for events.

Its paper bags adorned with photos of half-naked models have been replaced by plain black ones, and such sexualised marketing has also been removed from the brand's in-store photos and gift cards.

The brand's hiring policy, which has been slammed as discriminatory because it puts a premium on good looks, has also been revised, Abercrombie & Fitch spokesman Carlene Benz told The Straits Times in a statement.

"Store associates will not be hired based on body type or physical attractiveness," she said, adding that their title will also be changed from "model" to "brand representative".

"There will (also) no longer be sexualised marketing used in marketing materials," she said.

The Straits Times understands that the store's nightclub vibe has also been toned down, with the lighting brightened, music played at a lower volume and the store's signature scent toned down a notch.

The change is part of a global revamp for the once high-flying retailer and follows the departure of long-serving chief executive Michael Jeffries in December. The brand had faced two years of declining earnings and sales.

Retail experts here said that the change is a long-time coming.

"This is an attempt to reconnect with teen customers and remain competitive," said Singapore Polytechnic senior retail lecturer Sarah Lim, adding that consumers may feel alienated by the photographs of chiselled bodies. "They think: 'I don't look like one of them.' "

She added: "Using sex in advertising is also very old-school. It is losing its relevance. Consumers are now more sophisticated, well-travelled and are not so easily motivated into spending. They want quality and look for a brand with good ethos."

Ang Peng Hwa, who teaches advertising regulation at the Wee Kim Wee School of Communication and Information at Nanyang Technological University, said: "As an advertiser, you want to be edgy but in a positive way, not a negative way."

Dr Ang is also the legal adviser for the Advertising Standards Authority of Singapore (Asas).

He said: "Asas wants advertising to be edgy, but does not approve of advertising that is distasteful. Many people are now against overtly sexual advertising.

"There is a greater sensitivity to such commoditisation, so such advertisements may actually turn consumers off."

A storm of protests had erupted in the months leading up to Abercrombie & Fitch's debut in Singapore in 2011.

It first received flak for erecting an advertisement in Orchard Road featuring a topless man, which breached the local advertising code of decency. Its hiring policy was then criticised by the Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices too.


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