Abercrombie & Fitch recently announced it is removing logos from most of its clothing. With the company’s sales in freefall for a year and in a steady decline for three years, the company realised something must be done.
Research told them kids no longer want to wear clothes with logos on them. As the Wall Street Journal explained, kids prefered "cheaper unmarked gear that they can use to put together their own individual styles."
The effect of globalisation and the digital information revolution means consumers are becoming more rational and need brands less and less
So, CEO Mike Jeffries announced it was ditching logoed clothes in the company’s US stores.
As an aside, Jeffiries was the wag who, last May, told the world he was only interested in people "with washboard stomachs who look like they’re about to jump on a surfboard". And indeed, male shop assistants at Abercrombie are encouraged to turn up to work shirtless.
It was here, on Marketing, earlier this month that in a tightly argued article based on years of experience, Jim Prior, CEO at The Partners and Lambie-Nairn, argued that this strategy was purest folly. Instead, Abercrombie should try to reinvent their brand rather than chuck it out altogether. He’s probably right.
But what if there is another way of reading this? What if it is branding itself that is the problem?
The new job of the brand
That’s certainly the view of Itamar Simonson and Emanuel Rosen, authors of a recent book, 'Absolute Value: What Really Influences Customers in the Age of (Nearly) Perfect Information'. They say brands are dying. The effect of globalisation and the digital information revolution means consumers are becoming more rational and need brands less and less.
We all know the job of the brand. As explained by The Economist, it is to "assure customers about the quality of a product or service". But today, customers can easily figure that out for themselves on comparison websites, review sites and via social media.
By using sites such as uSwitch, for example, customers can easily shop around for energy suppliers. Increasingly, they are plumping for companies they’ve never heard of over the price-gouging Big Six energy brands.
Aldi and Lidl, meanwhile, offer food brands none of us is familiar with, but their low prices are crushing Tesco.
When quizzed about my car insurer recently I realised I change it so regularly - thanks Money Supermarket (or was it another price comparison site?) - I had completely forgotten who my insurer was.
Super-brand Apple’s high cost iPhone 6 is about to go on sale amid much ballyhoo. Did anyone notice that last week Amazon dropped the price of their smartphone from $199 to 99c? Will people stick with Apple because they "love the brand", or because Apple have trapped them in an eco system?
Simonson and Rosen argue that brands have "a reduced role as a quality signal. Brand equity is not as valuable as it used to be."
Of course, the death of brands has been predicted before and they have still survived. But I don’t think we should get too comfortable. Brands are under assault as never before, from a set of powerful forces changing how we consume. It would be purest folly to ignore this fact.