Posted by Jennifer Wright on November 16, 2009 06:22 PM
American Apparel appears resolutely determined to remain top banana in the shock department. Their latest ad – which promotes layering clothing in an image with a model’s nipples exposed – has raised a few eyebrows.
It is shocking that people continue to be surprised by these lapses. American Apparel has made its embrace of the decadent lifestyle central to their brand image, with provocative billboards depicting ambiguous -- but clearly sexual -- scenes in visible locations in New York and Los Angeles.
The company's founder, Dov Charney -- even as he promotes his product's quality and non-sweatshop provenance -- makes a point of walking the (debauched) walk behind his brand's "edgy" image. Trend forecasting company Youth Intelligence's Catherine Stellin told a 2005 teen marketing conference that in the eyes of target consumers, sexual harrassment suits alleging obscene workplace behavior by Charney actually bolster his brand:
We’ve talked to kids about that, actually, and what they’re telling us is that it fits their brand. In some ways it lends more authenticity to the brand. They’re not just saying they’re sexually deviant, they really are!
In the past, American Apparel has revealed, well, just about every other part of the human anatomy. To that end, the UK advertising standard authority banned one of American Apparel’s ads for appearing “too much like child porn.” But AA takes the criticism in stride, cheerfully reporting on its website the reaction to one of its New York billboards, while dismissing the outrage as predictable.
They’re not the only one that have gone the sexy-naked-brand route – Abercrombie & Fitch tried it a few years ago (and their ads showed people engaging in group sex) until marketers decided that the ads were too sexy for teens.
But is this really an effective branding strategy for American Apparel? Sure, the ads are eye-catching (nudity on billboards always is) but I can’t help but wonder if they actually make people want to wear the clothing. Don’t they instead, make people want to remove the clothing? And, at this point, don’t we all really expect the models to be half naked? The ads might actually prove more shocking if the model was fully dressed, ready for a night on the town.