In an attempt to attract a new generation of teenage shoppers, Abercrombie & Fitch is reaching back to its recent past. The retailer is updating its wildly successful “Stars on the Rise” marketing campaign from the early 2000s that featured stars such as Taylor Swift and Ashton Kutcher who were at the time on the cusp of celebrity.
For the reincarnated campaign, Abercrombie chose 11 “up-and-coming” actors including Glee star Jacob Artist, Alexander Ludwig from The Hunger Games and American Horror Story’s Lily Rabe. Showing a whimsical side, the 2013 campaign also features famous dogs such as Uggie, the Jack Russell terrier from The Artist, and Julio, the famed skateboarding English Bulldog. Bruce Weber, Abercrombie’s photographer for years, shot the campaign in the brand’s typical black-and-white style.
“For many of our consumers today, they might not know what we did in 2005, so it seemed relevant to discuss this concept we’ve done in the past,” Michael Scheiner, Abercrombie’s director of marketing and public relations, said in a telephone interview with BuzzFeed. “We did it often in the early 2000s in our quarterly magazines and it was always a successful and exciting campaign.”
Revisiting “Stars on the Rise” allows Abercrombie to remind consumers of its trendsetter status in using people like Heidi Klum and Penn Badgley as models before they were huge stars. It also connects the retailer to hot, hip new talent, putting it again on the cutting edge and helping to counter the criticism that the brand has grown stale and out of touch.
The first iterations of “Stars on the Rise,” which was a staple of the early 2000s, were typically featured in editions of Abercrombie’s provocative A&F Quarterly. Introduced in 1997, the magazine-catalogs, or “magalogs,” were a hallmark of the period during which Abercrombie sales and buzz grew at the time rapidly. But A&F Quarterly ended its run in December 2003 after a particularly racy Christmas issue that had “Group Sex” written on the cover created a fury among conservative groups.
Reigniting the program is “really smart,” said Allen Adamson, a managing director at brand consultancy Landor Associates in New York. “Their brand needs to be connected with what’s next, what’s hot, and there’s no better way in their business to try to catch the next trend than to link up with aspiring stars. And the association works both ways — it’s good for the rising stars and it’s good for Abercrombie.”
While Abercrombie has around 400,000 followers on Twitter, for instance, The Hunger Games’ Alexander Ludwig has 325,000, showing how the social media reach of both sides can work in each other’s favor.
“Even if half of them [the stars] don’t make it, or three-fourths of them don’t make it, the energy they bring, the authenticity, the hope, you just feel good looking at their stories,” Adamson said, adding that it’s a lot like buying a bunch of lottery tickets — if some of them do strike it big, they’ll be connected to Abercrombie.
In May, Abercrombie hired a new senior vice president of marketing, Craig Brommers, formerly of Speedo and Calvin Klein. The campaign, however, was underway before he came on board. Still, according to Abercrombie’s Scheiner, Brommers is “evaluating existing initiatives and developing a long-term marketing strategy.”
Images of the budding celebrities in the new campaign are in stores worldwide, on the company’s website, and in a new Abercrombie app where shoppers can see how many degrees apart they are from the stars. So far, the feedback from shoppers has been “encouraging,” Scheiner said.
And who knows? Maybe the next Heidi Klum or Ashton Kutcher is in the mix.