Mike Jeffries is a marketing genius.
This statement in no way implies that I think highly of the man. Quite the contrary, I see him as socially unredeemable, someone who preys upon those who have minimal sense of self worth. His ads invite the young, the unsure, the outcast, to purchase his high-priced sense of belonging, as if this will somehow fill all the empty places inside. Make them whole. Beautiful. Part of an elite and special club.
And damn, he does this well. With a few hurtful, ignorant statements, he has spawned a shitstorm of free publicity. You can’t turn around without tripping over Abercrombie & Fitch. Why? Because he has attacked the members of society that are frequently seen as “at risk,” or are in some way marginalized. Looking away is morally unacceptable. Rushing to their defense is the right thing to do.
So in we rush. And this hurricane of backlash plays into Jeffries’s hands.
How? It’s all bad publicity, right? Won’t it hurt his business? Hit him in the wallet?
Absolutely not. What Jeffries has so artfully done is to surround his overpriced clothing line with a mega-buzz—the sort of promotional tidal wave most retailers only dream of. We, with our self-righteous and vocal indignation, run the risk of propping up sales previously flagging due to protracted recession.
There is no such thing as bad publicity. Abercrombie & Fitch is on every news station, dominates every social media site. It’s everywhere you look. People who never shopped there will now check it out due to nothing more than morbid curiosity generated by free publicity of our own making.
And once inside, chances are they’ll buy something. If it fits. And if it fits, they’ll feel good about that. Because it means they fit, too.
It’s a dilemma. We can’t, as good-hearted, ethical human beings, just walk away when someone attacks a marginalized group of people. We just can’t. The poor things need our support, right?
The fact that we see larger-sized women as inferior—not as smart as thin girls, not as motivated as thin girls, not as healthy as thin girls, and not as worthy as thin girls—and the fact that we see them as needing our protection; this does not reflect well on us. We should see all body types as equal, right? Jeffries’s statements should elicit from us nothing more than, “What an ass.” Because in a more enlightened world, we wouldn’t feel the emotional punch, wouldn’t feel sorry for the people he’s targeted. We’d just be confused by his statements, because, well, nobody thinks like that.
But if you look deep inside, and if you are honest, you’ll have to admit the prejudice is there, buried deep within each and every one of us. It was put there by people like Mike Jeffries, and now he’s simply watering the seeds planted a very long time ago. We react because we are programmed to react. Most of us have been warped by the media’s perception of beauty, and it takes effort to look past it.
Mike Jeffries is using us—all of us—in order to stage a gigantic marketing campaign. He may be an ass, but he’s a very smart ass. The only way to defeat him is to ignore him, and to look inside and try to change our own deeply-rooted prejudices.