· 5 min read
Many millennials and older Gen Zers will remember the smell and feel of an Abercrombie & Fitch circa the 2000s. The music was loud, the lights were low, and the cologne was strong enough to make your mom wait outside. But the overstimulation could not outmatch the thrill of walking out with a moose T-shirt in a torso-laden shopping bag (assuming you found a shirt in your size).
These days, Abercrombie & Fitch looks and feels quite different: Stores are a little less dark, sizing and model representation are more inclusive, and the moose has all but disappeared. It’s all part of a massive rebranding effort that began in 2017, under the leadership of CEO Fran Horowitz, to cast aside some of the brand’s past blunders.
In its latest earnings call, Abercrombie reported that Q4 2021 was its “best social-selling quarter ever,” with sales from social media up “triple digits” from the year before. So how did they do it? Largely by showing their target demo what they want, where they want it: on TikTok.
“Once a brand is kind of buried, it’s very hard for that brand to have a comeback and even harder for that brand to come back and be a leader, which is basically what happened with Abercrombie,” Harley Block, CEO and co-founder of Gen Z consultancy IF7, who works with A&F on its TikTok strategy, told us.
Megan Brophy, senior director of marketing at Abercrombie & Fitch, told us the influx of young millennials to TikTok before—but especially after—Covid hit in 2020 inspired them to get on the app. “We saw a lot of organic activity start to happen for the brand [on TikTok] and work really well,” she said. “So we moved a lot of our attention over to that space since and had a really kind of fantastic 2021 and 2022 to start on the platform.”
According to Brophy, A&F’s goal is to project a brand image focused on what she calls the “long-weekend mindset,” primarily targeting young professionals aged 25–29 who haven’t settled down yet and spend their time off traveling or with friends.
When deciding how to reach this audience, Brophy said it was important for the brand to showcase that “lifestyle, not just a fashion sense.” And so they began working with creators across all walks of life, from comedians to chefs, rather than restricting themselves to just fashion influencers.
“We all well know the previous expressions of the brand were more exclusive, if you will, and what we look to do today is to be incredibly inclusive and be a place where everyone feels like they belong,” she said.
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While neither Abercrombie nor IF7 would disclose which influencers they were working with, some have disclosed their partnerships with the brand on the app in accordance with FTC guidelines, using “ad” or “partner” hashtags. Examples include makeup artist Mikayla Nogueira, dancer Tega Alexander, curve model Remi Bader, and comedian Jen Nicole, who wrote that her TikTok persona Taelynn “wasn’t big on the moose logo, but times have changed at Abercrombie.”
Chloe Brown (@chloe_xandria) told us that growing up, she wasn’t able to wear Abercrombie & Fitch due to its restrictive sizing. She said she’s been pleasantly surprised by the rebrand for that reason.
“I’m not just seeing one body type being able to show off these clothes, and that means so much to me,” she said. “And I know [it means] so much to little girls who look like me and look like other creators who are plus-size or mid-size.”
She said in her work with the brand she does try-on hauls and “motivational content” both on her page and the brand’s page. She said Abercrombie allows her to choose which products she wears in her videos depending on what she feels comfortable in.
According to Block, giving creators freedom is key. “Gen Z has the biggest BS detector of any [generation] ever,” he said. “As soon as they sniff that it’s really commercial or too cringy, they’re out.”
Right now, the #abercrombie hashtag on TikTok has around 245 million views, and #abercrombiehaul has around 45 million. Some videos, like this one with more than 400,000 likes, straight up admit to not being an ad.
Brophy said she’s been pleasantly surprised by how much TikTok—just one platform—has impacted so many of their growth metrics, from organic social growth to revenue to social chatter. According to Block, the brand’s third-party research shows that brand favorability is high among customers. They’ve also seen “six-digit traffic” to the website from content created with IF7.
“Brand reimaginings take some time–this has been a long time in the works,” Brophy said. “But really seeing, in the past six to nine months, people catching on and getting really excited about it and wanting to share about it and saying how much they love the brand and it’s everything that they own, that, I think, has been wonderful.”
As for whether the moose will come back? “I think, at the end of the day, we will always listen to customers in terms of the trends and styles that they want,” Brophy said. “Right now, big giant logos and icons are not it. Will they be again someday? Maybe.”