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Saturday, May 11, 2013

We value honesty. Except when we don't like what we hear.

I took a significant amount of flak for my blog post yesterday. That is fair enough and I don't mind that. When you take the opposite position to most you are inviting that sort of thing. Many people did have a point, but I do stand by mine. But I wanted to clarify what I meant and make a second observation.

Of course it is somewhat mean and offensive to exclude and insult people because of their weight. I get that. But here is a summary of my points about that.

1) Companies run a business. They are in the business of making money. They aren't guidance councilors. They make decisions that aren't popular or politically correct. Because it isn't their jobs to do that. They must obey the laws, but otherwise their job is to make money for the owners and/or shareholders. It isn't a popularity contest. 

2) Stamping a brand is very important to being successful in any business. If you don't stand out, you have only one other way to make money. The Walmart way, which is excessive low prices made off the backs of very cheap labor and abuse of employees and towns. To me, that is way more offensive than anything Abercrombie and Fitch is doing. I have a much bigger problem with Walmart than I ever would Abercrombie and Fitch. Which is why I never set one foot in Walmart nor spend a cent there. I go out of my way to may more elsewhere. I vote with my wallet and that is how I make my statement.

3)  We all know that being larger, or even overweight in this society means you will be discriminated against on some level. That is not a news flash. We learned that in school. And not just weight. If you were a girl, and were flat chested or heavy or homely, or a boy and nerdish, short, or not athletic, you certainly did not fall into the "cool kids" categories. If you didn't figure that out then, well, you just weren't paying attention. If you thought it got better as you got older or that society operated in any different way than school, well, you are delusional. It doesn't. In the working world, the good looking people get better jobs and promotions simply because of how they look. That is reality.
4) Their strategy is to distance themselves from the Targets and Walmarts and it works. Jeffries tact is in question, but his marketing strategy is very good. And it works. People who view themselves as cool don't want to shop at the Walmarts and Targets, and if you give them any indication that you are even remotely trying to cater to that same type of customer,  then they will discard you for the next cool fad or store. By excluding those who are considered not cool, they are strengthening their market share and brand for the sector they want to target.

5) If they don't want your business, then you go elsewhere and hurt them that way. All the chatter, in this case, only gives them more exposure, not less, and helps them, not hurts them. The people who already aren't going to shop at Abercrombie because of this are already not their customers. The ones who already do, are going to stay. And those on the fence, who aren't there yet, might think that Abercrombie is the cool place to shop and will be tempted to join in. Again,  Abercrombie wins, not loses, in this scenario. And they don't have to spend dollar one on an ad to do that.

Now, do I like that a store excludes people based on their weight,  or social status? No, I don't like it. But it doesn't bother me,  and if I was one of those who would like to shop there (I am certainly not) and they deliberately did not carry my size to exclude me,  would I be mad or offended? No, I wouldn't. I would just go elsewhere. The world is a cruel, unfeeling, cold and selfish, self serving place a lot of the time. I accept that and don't let it get to me. I try to treat all people well and kind and that is all I can do. Those that don't, or businesses that put profit above common decency (like Walmart) just get removed from my life. But again, business is there to make money, not friends. So, if I was the CEO of Abercrombie and Fitch would I do exactly the same thing? Your damn right I would. The goal is to make money, not friends. Or be nice. 
So, the real issue then becomes what the CEO said about why they do the things they do. Before I delve into that, lets look at how a similar type of uproar was handled by Loblaws and Joe Fresh when that factory in Bangladesh collapsed two weeks ago. 

Bangladesh vs. Abercrombie.

Or maybe you’ll remember a 2006 interview that Jeffries gave, in which he stated very openly: “That’s why we hire good-looking people in our stores. Because good-looking people attract other good-looking people, and we want to market to cool, good-looking people. We don’t market to anyone other than that.”
If you ever even noticed just one of these things, then you’ll know that Jeffries’ ‘cool kids’ statement isn’t breaking news, just more like an obvious statement of fact, which has been turned into some very successful, free public relations for the brand.  The fact that now everyone has decided to become angry about a store that never bothered to hide its aims or target demographic is frankly, just a waste of time.

So, what could Jeffries have said if he wanted to play the PR game? Well, he could have spun it and basically lied about Abercrombie's strategy and motives. Something like this:

"Well, at Abercrombie and Fitch, we basically feel that the XL and larger market isn't big enough to sustain significant amounts of inventory in our stores. We would love to carry those sizes, because we value all our customers equally. But we just can't justify it on a cost effective basis. But, for sure, it has nothing to do with our image as a store for "cool kids."

That is mostly the type of corporate babble and rhetoric we hear from CEO's these days. Being blunt is what we wish all our politicians and business leaders would be...until they actually are. Then we attack them for just telling us how it actually is. Which is why they rarely do it. 

Weston said Loblaws has always ensured all facilities in its supply chain adhere to rigorous standards in areas including local labour laws and work conditions.
"Nothing in those reports suggested a problem, but the scope of the audits does not cover structural integrity," Weston said.
Weston said he was "troubled" by practices that saw it fit to send workers back into this building after it was declared dangerous.....Similar to the reaction to child labour violations in the 1990s, Weston said "the apparel industry must come together again and fundamentally address the issue."

But he could have said it like this, which is what most of us were thinking and know:

Do we care? Of course we care. Now that we got caught not caring, we care that you think we don't care, so now we care. Of course we are troubled. We got caught not caring and now we have to care, or at least pretend to care and that is troubling, because we really don't care.

We care! No you don't. You only care because you got caught and have to "manage" and "spin" the situation. And we all know you are doing that. Because you have to, and you know it. But if you could, you wouldn't give a crap at all about who suffers in slave labor conditions that many times results in horrible outcomes like the one in you can have another winter palace in Barbados. We get that. That is how the world works, whether we like it or not. You certainly didn't care enough to check before it happened.

If they really wanted to make sure things were safe and the pay was reasonable and so were the conditions, they would still make the clothes in Bangladesh, but they wouldn't contract out the work but run the factories themselves. But they don't want that. They want to wash their hands of that aspect of it and be arms length and somewhat distant from the direct blame when something goes wrong.
So, in essence, we have two companies who are basically doing the same thing, which is making a business decision solely based on maximum profits, but one is spinning it so that they look like the good guy, while the other is just telling it like it is. 
And what has been the result of this? Loblaws and Joe Fresh sort of come out of this mess looking like the good guy, even though they have blood on their hands and have covertly contributed to the death of more than 1000 people. While Abercrombie and Fitch look like mean spirited, heartless assholes who, in reality, have done nothing but make and sell clothes to target their intended market and nobody has really been hurt in any significant way by them. Certainly, nobody has died or worked as a slave laborer.   
To publicly say what Jeffries did is stupid. It might be stupid, but it is refreshing. It is very easy to play the PR game, but I myself would rather just hear it like it is, not some sugarcoated Madison Avenue written piece of shit speech that is just placating those that don't want to get their feelings hurt and would rather be delusional.
But, most in that world do it the way Loblaws did because while we seem to value honesty in our society, we only like it when it is something we want to hear. When it is something that is true, but something we don't want to hear, we punish the truthful ones for being truthful.
That is really sad.  

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