“Situation” Style Subsidy
August 19th, 2011

If you are anything like me, you try to keep any aspect of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” at an arm’s length.  If you do get into close proximity to anything “Jersey Shore” related you try to make sure that you have your irony hat affixed firmly to your head.  I know that the antics of the show’s cast fall squarely into the guilty pleasure zone of a lot of Americans, but they just don’t do it for me.

Nevertheless, I was tickled to read this article about one of the show’s main characters, “The Situation.”  As most people under the age of 40 know, Michael “The Situation” Sorrentino is a big fan of his abs.  As such, he is also a fan of lifting his shirt to show them off, frequently revealing the waistband of his Abercrombie and Fitch boxer shorts.  What can I say?  He’s a class act. 

Abercrombie goes to extraordinary lengths to maintain a particular brand image – an image based in no small part on the six-pack abs of its models.  Yet the company finds itself nervous about the erosion of that brand image due to their increasing connection to “The Situation.”  So, in a move that is as funny as it is probably hopeless, they have offered (quite publicly) to pay “The Situation” to stop wearing their clothes. 

I laughed when I first read this news.  As a marketing professional I know well the finely tuned dance that brand cultivation can be.  It’s easier to manage in the B-to-B world than it is in consumer markets, so I can only imagine what stress-induced gymnastics this “Situation” situation has caused the marketing folks over at Abercrombie.  Offering to pay someone to quit wearing your brand is unconventional, and likely would not have been particularly successful if done in private.  By making this offer publicly Abercrombie has signaled that “The Situation” doesn’t represent them.  They don’t even need him to take them up on their offer.  That is the genius of their move.

However, once I got past the initial chuckles, something about it didn’t sit right with me.  The thing is this: Abercrombie and Fitch has intentionally and publicly insulted someone.  They have effectively said, “We think you’re tacky and we don’t want you near our brand.”  Granted “The Situation” is a grown man capitalizing on the media fascination with his show and is cultivating a brand in much the same way that Abercrombie is.  But this still feels a little bit below the belt, and I think the reason for that is that it feels disingenuous of Abercrombie. 

Abercrombie’s models are highly likely to be wearing not a single stitch of Abercrombie’s clothing in many of the retailer’s seasonal catalogs.  It markets itself on a particular image – an image of toned bodies and lives of leisure.  If he were better looking in the face “The Situation” actually has exactly the type of physique that Abercrombie might put in the center of a black and white beach scene photo spread.  Whether or not they want to admit it, Jersey Shore types are their target market.  (This isn’t Brooks Brothers we’re talking about here…)  So to turn around and claim superiority hits a false note.

It’s not that I really feel badly for “The Situation.”  These days he’s laughing all the way to the bank.  But I find myself tsk-tsking at Abercrombie and Fitch.  They make a mint off of tanned and toned teens aspiring to have abs just like Mike Sorrentino’s, yet they’re willing to throw him under the bus to try to claim the high road.  And it is that move – while strategically clever – that ironically places them squarely on the low road, at least in my mind.

5 Responses to ““Situation” Style Subsidy”

  1. BigLittleWolf Says:

    This is actually a show I do not watch – to the amazement of some who know me. Perhaps I should, being interested in pop culture and its (insidious?) impacts on our collective and individual psyches, but then again, these days I’m a little turned off by all of it.

    Even my fave housewives.

  2. Cathy Says:

    I have never watched this show but I hear the title all the time – references, insinuations, etc… but nothing about what the show is actually about. Nice abs…I might have to check in – I can always do with a little eye candy.

    As for the point you make, that seems hypocritical to me based on what you’ve presented. Yet another reason I should check it out.

  3. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Okay, like you, I giggled at first. I’ve never seen the show, but the cast members all look and behave like bottom-dwellers. Still, you do have a point–it seems pretty silly to ask him to stop wearing their brand of undies.

  4. Anne Says:

    Did you see MTV’s response? It was funny. They basically said it was a publicity stunt by Abercrombie and invited Abercrombie to collaborate with them again in the future! Totally called their bluff.

  5. Gale Says:

    Anne – No, I didn’t see that. But I LOVE it. Serves Abercrombie right for trying to pretend it’s more upper end than it actually is.