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Abercrombie & Fitch CEO receives lesson in cool

Northwestern University grad and self-proclaimed "uncool kid" schools Mike Jeffries in what "cool" actually looks like in the real world.
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Chiara O. Scuri, May 18, 2013 10:00:46 PM

By now you’ve probably heard about the PR nightmare currently keeping Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries up at night.

In a book called “The New Rules of Retail, co-author Robin Lewis told Business Insider that the 61-year-old had once said he didn’t want “fat” or “uncool” kids wearing his clothes. Instead, he said, he wanted his brand represented by “cool” and “good-looking” teens.

You can imagine how well that admission went over (Hint: it didn’t).

The public outcry has been loud and swift. Editorials, articles and tweets have almost unilaterally lambasted Jeffries for his comments and many more have sworn off the label indefinitely. There’s even been an ill-advised grassroots campaign to change Abercrombie’s demographic.

But perhaps the most poignant and insightful response comes from a recent Northwestern University MA grad, who used his “uncool” smarts to redefine what cool means in the real world.

Anup Samanta wrote an open letter to Jeffries explaining why the CEO has it all wrong.

Dear Mr. Jeffries,

Since you are a seasoned business executive, please define the “cool kids” market segment that is the “bread and butter” (inappropriate metaphor for your body image conscious stakeholders, but I really couldn’t help it) for your business.

I received my masters’ degree in integrated marketing communications (IMC) from Northwestern University one month before you explained your niche marketing strategy to Salon. Back then, I wondered, “How does this corporate leader define and size the ‘cool kids’ market segment.”

I think you defined your “cool kids” market segment based on what YOU, not objective research or analysis, felt was antithetical to YOUR definition of cool. As a Medill IMC alum, let me help you define the “cool kids” market.

A “cool kid” creates an application for a smartphone.
A “cool kid” volunteers their time to serve meals at a soup kitchen.
A “cool kid” shatters their school’s track-and-field records.
A “cool kid” comes out of the closet and defends their sexual orientation to bullies.
A “cool kid” stays up all night to study for an exam, write a paper or prepare for a presentation.
A “cool kid” helps a buddy who needs guidance and support.
A “cool kid” falls in unrequited love with someone he or she can’t have, but can’t help how he or she feels.
A “cool kid” doesn’t tolerate abuse from adults.
A “cool kid” is a kid who wears his or her heart on his or her sleeve.

I could go on and on and on about what it means to be a “cool kid”. Did your research uncover these insights? I doubt it did because you have a narrow minded perspective on what it means to be a “cool kid”. Before your public relations people tell you to apologize to the world about your ignorance, I would recommend that you re-define what it means to be a “cool kid”. Think long and hard about this definition. If all you can see are washboard abdominal muscles, then your business will fail in the long term.


An “Uncool Kid”

We couldn’t think of a cooler response.


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Chiara O. Scuri

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