We chose to analyze this advertisement for Abercrombie and Fitch clothing found online because of its clear focus on overt sexual imagery. It’s difficult to get a clear picture of the overall setting of the advertisement because it’s blurred out, but it appears to be in a grassy field. The focus of the ad is on the torso of a muscular man learning on a wooden pole, possibly a telephone pole. The “Abercrombie & Fitch” text is mostly blocked by the man’s chest, making the image of him the focus of the ad—even more important than what the ad is supposed to be selling.
The man in the advertisement is striking an explicitly sexual pose. His jeans and belt are undone, and his thumb is resting inside his waistband. His face is not a part of the image, which makes the ad impersonal and directs the focus to his muscles and pose. This is equivalent to other advertisements that zoom in on women’s chests or backsides.
The point of this ad doesn’t leave much to the imagination—it’s clear that sex appeal is the main selling point for Abercrombie and Fitch. The ad seems to be saying, if you’re male and you buy Abercrombie and Fitch jeans, they’ll make you look like this, and if you’re female and you shop at Abercrombie and Fitch, you’ll get men who look like this. The ad is clearly targeting a young female audience, or a male audience who desire to look like the young man depicted.
In an article by Tara Chittenden entitled “For whose eyes only? The gatekeeping of sexual images in the field of teen sexuality,” the author states, “Abercrombie & Fitch have received a lot of criticism based on their advertising images” (Chittenden 80). She continues discussing how Abercrombie and Fitch depict teen sexuality and how these racy images form young peoples’ view of normal sexuality in today’s society. “Abercrombie & Fitch were not the first to use overt references to sex and sexuality in their advertising,” she writes, “however, the particular argument seems to be the young age group both modeling and consuming the images” (Chittenden 80).
The dominant ideologies surrounding sexuality in the United States and the world abroad are centered on heterosexuality. The man in the above advertisement (or at least what we can see of him) represents the typical “all-American” type: tan, physically fit, and seemingly tall. The ad doesn’t just sell a brand, but an entire lifestyle. Chittenden says, “Significant for the reproduction of teens’ position in the field are the objectified forms of cultural capital in the guise of clothes and accessories from ‘cool’ brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch” (Chittenden 83-84). Since the brand name is so obscured from view, consumers are expected to know what the ad is for, and what it represents. Faded black and white images of practically naked teens outside have become a trademark for Abercrombie and Fitch, and those who frequent their stores would certainly be able to recognize this image as one of theirs, even with the text blocked and covered.
As stated previously, this advertisement shows a young, white, male. Besides those very obvious characteristics it is difficult to tell what else the model represents. Abercrombie and Fitch is trying to attract a certain group of people for their products, particularly a white and affluent demographic. The person in the advertisement is a clear example of the type of person they want to buy and wear their clothing, and what they want their customers to try to look like, or want to look like. Because of this representation the company is making a stereotype of what they think their customers want to look like, playing with this stereotype and reinforcing it. This kind of advertising has an extreme effect on the audience and the way they view society and themselves.
There is only one person present in this advertisement so it is difficult to see a relationship among the images, however there is a clear relationship between the product and sexuality. In the picture the half naked male body is in front of the companies name, covering up most of the logo. This suggests that the name is second in importance to the sexual figure in front of it. This was a very intentional move by Abercrombie because it makes us look at the image first and then look at the logo after. This make the audience first process the image of the body and the sexual nature behind it, and then associate it with the brand.
In this advertisement there is very little connection between what is shown and the actual product. Abercrombie is a clothing brand and in this image the male figure is wearing no shirt and his jeans are only slightly shown. It is essentially a picture of a naked body trying to sell clothes, but much more than clothes, it is trying to sell an image and a lifestyle. They want a very sexual image to be associated with their name for advertising purposes. Transforming from their old image which was more outdoor oriented, “The new Abercrombie & Fitch sells itself as the go-to label for status and appearance-conscious American teens: a younger, sexed-up, more urban version of Ralph Lauren” (Cartner-Morley). The company has been sexualizing and objectifying children and young adults for years now and they are making billions of dollars off of it. The company has described their ads as “playful and celebratory of the free spirit of today’s young Americans” but it is very clear that they are trying to cover up the truth and ideologies they are reinforcing.
Taking a step back and looking at the history of the company, we can see that Abercrombie has changed significantly over the years. The Abercrombie of today is a very different company than the one which was founded in 1892. The company did not being as a clothing store with a racy image, Abercrombie began its life as a sporting goods store, selling to professional outdoorsmen of the ilk of Teddy Roosevelt. Today, the company has much more scandalous ads, the company takes out a double truck ad featuring a dozen guys on roller skates and wearing boxer shorts and nothing else (Brady). However, the target audience of Abercrombie is largely the same. Abercrombie is and was a company which caters to the white upper classes.
What started as a company devoted to outdoor activities has morphed into one which targets predominantly white upper class (McBride 64). The company began to change its image in the early 1990’s under the directorship of Michael Jeffries. He began to market the store to upper class white men, and later began marketing preppy style collegiate clothes to upper class white women as well. The company began to more directly change its marketing to that of marketing whiteness, specifically the preppy, leisurely lifestyle (McBride 65). Today, Abercrombie has developed what it calls its “Look Book.” Within the book, it claims that Abercrombie is selling an experience to its customers, one which tells employees that they have to fit into that experience to sell the Abercrombie lifestyle to their customers. This book has pictures of models displaying the “Abercrombie look,” and all but one of the twelve images has exclusively white models (McBride 67). The book continues to give the narrative of what style Abercrombie is supporting. It talks about “natural” and “American” as ways to describe their look, which can is an encoded meaning perpetrated by the company into suggesting that American is “whiteness”.
The Abercrombie brand is one of hegemonic ideals, perpetuating the idea that whiteness is American and desirable. The sexual nature of the brand is also suspect, suggesting that lean, white, and rich are ideal. Men are supposed to look like Abercrombie models, and women are supposed to desire them. Michaels and the other Abercrombie executives understand as well as anyone that sex sells, and have combined the dominant ideologies in American society with sex to create a brand which makes money by perpetuating racist and classist ideas. This ad, as well as the majority of other advertisements by Abercrombie, are a testament to that fact.
Brady, James. “ABERCROMBIE & FITCH FORGETS ITS DAYS OF HEM & WOLFIE | News – Advertising Age.” Ad & Marketing Industry News – Advertising Age. Web. 06 Mar. 2011. <http://adage.com/article/news/abercrombie-fitch-forgets-days-hem-wolfie/64625/>.
Chittenden, Tara. “For whose eyes only? The gatekeeping of sexual images in the field of
teen sexuality.” Sex Education. 10.1 (2010): 79-90. Web.
Cartner-Morley, Jess. “History of Abercrombie & Fitch: Tracing a Line from JFK’s
Blazer.” Guardian.co.uk. 24 June 2009. Web. 6 Mar. 2011.
Elliott, Stuart. “US: When a Corporate Donation Raises Protests.” CorpWatch. 12 Mar.
2008. Web. 6 Mar. 2011. <http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=14973>.
McBride, Dwight A. Why I Hate Abercrombie & Fitch: Essays on Race and Sexuality. New York: New York University, 2004. Web. 6 Mar. 2011. <http://books.google.com/books?id=oYUn6OXLdaoC&pg=PA64&lpg=PA64&ots=P_qj43KfPM&sig=y7Uf8CfhqBAKBfBmMvDVm-JTWLU#v=onepage&q&f=false>.
By Lettie Stratton, Caroline Raue, and Jordan Marks