Welcome to the the Ivey HBA Retail Marketing Management blog. Retail marketing is an exciting, dynamic, important, and very visible aspect of the overall field of marketing. Throughout the year, students will be posting comments regarding contemporary retailing issues. Although this is intended to be used by Bus 4411 students, industry marketing professionals are also invited to join in if they like.

Monday, February 2, 2009

American Apparel…a clothing retailer or magazine shop?

I have to be honest. I am not an American Apparel (AA) shopper, however I have been exposed to their marketing and advertising techniques, have seen their stores pop up and I have done a few projects on their CEO Dov Charney and his dubious behavior. Only after reading about this most recent incident, do I feel they have made a grave error in judgment that may negatively affect their sales negatively incorporating experience into their retail value proposition.

The incident as described by the Globe and Mail[1] is as follows. A mother goes into American Apparel in Vancouver with her 13-year-old daughter, and the mother notices a BUTT magazine[2] hanging out of a backpack on a mannequin. What caught her attention was the cover of a naked man walking away. She took it out to look at and opened it to find a two-page spread of two males engaged in some sort of sexual act. The latter event really upset her; she ended up confronting the staff who immediately blamed corporate headquarters. I guess I should also mention that AA also sells copies of the magazine at their stores.

AA is known as a unique apparel company who manufactures solely in the US, and promotes a sweatshop free environment. Over the last 6 years or so they have developed a very controversial reputation with the CEO being known to walk around the office in his underwear, objectify and sleep with his female employees and the list goes on. As a company AA are known for their scandalous and revealing advertisements (many photo shoots done by Dov at his home in his basement), their store décor and the hipster retail employees.

The experience observed at retail shops, is developed primarily from the vision of its founders and leaders, and this totally applies for AA. In my opinion, while Mr. Charney’s personal behavior has not seemed to deter buyers, AA has taken the experience too far, and this may negatively affect their retail sales. It’s one thing to have highly sexual advertisements in magazines and on billboards promoting your merchandise, since consumers are constantly bombarded and desensitized to many of these images. However, to have BUTT magazine available to any of your consumers will and has really offended them on a personal level and passed their threshold of comfort. While there may be a fine line between pornographic and sexualizing images, companies should be aware that pornography is still considered taboo by many and will therefore not be accepted. AA targets mainly female consumers who range from young girls to their mothers. There are very few people that I know (girls or guys, mothers or fathers) that would feel comfortable walking into a clothing store and being exposed to pornography.

I am confident that consumers do shop ethically. Although many people can view AA as being ethical (based on their sweatshop free and manufactured in America motto), I think being exposed to pornography without asking for it trumps their super ethical supply chain.

The Globe and Mail attempted to contact both the Montreal and LA head offices of AA however did not get any response back.

Whether you shop at AA or not, I recommend that you read up on both their strategy and the CEO Dov Charney.


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