Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) on Tuesday announced that it no longer wanted to be associated with MTV's "Jersey Shore," the show with a sloshed, suntanned cast that has boozed and kicked its way to some of the highest ratings the network has ever seen.
The press release, titled "A Win-Win Situation," stated that the company was offering Mike "The Situation" Sorrentino a "substantial payment" to stop wearing the brand's clothes. "We understand that the show is for entertainment purposes, but believe this association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans," the Brand Senses department wrote.
Was Abercrombie & Fitch drunk when it wrote the press release? It seems strange that a company whose bestselling T-shirt last summer was emblazoned "The Fitchuation" would sever its ties with the original Situation. (As Sorrentino told New York Magazine last year: "I mean, where did [A&F] get that from? Obviously from myself.")
"It's a clever PR stunt," an MTV spokeswoman told CNN today. It could hardly be called a dumb one, considering that Google has already located some 2,000 articles on the topic, as of this writing. Jersey Shore is one of the most popular shows on television, with Sorrentino reportedly having made $60,000 per episode in 2010. Other companies have paid Sorrentino to put his face and abs on products that range from specialty vodka and Vitamin Water to tuxedos and jewel-encrusted rosaries.
Grabbing a Piece of the Press Pie
Abercrombie & Fitch, it seems, wants a piece of the press pie without having to pay for it. Moreover, when it comes to reality TV stars, mocking one's mascots may prove more successful for companies than promoting them. After all, Sorrentino is beloved by viewers precisely because he makes them feel just the right amount of superior. If you can laugh at "Jersey Shore," you don't feel as bad for having wasted hours of your life watching it.
Still, not everyone loves hating the Shore. Kim Lundgren, a senior strategist at Interbrand, notes that Abercrombie & Fitch was likely thinking about the back-to-school season when it released "a Win-Win Situation." "The moms are deciding where to spend money and I don't think they approve," Lundgren says of Sorrentino. While the company's decision to disown Sorrentino may seem out of character, it's not uncommon for companies to suddenly attempt to reassert control over their brands, Lundgren explains, citing Tiger Woods's former sponsors as examples.
Although today, companies fight gold tooth and fake nail for spots on the Shore, the show has not always been so popular with advertisers. In it's incipience, its raunchy club scenes and controversial depictions of Italian-Americans offended some advertisers. Domino's Pizza and Dell Computers both pulled commercials from the first season.
"Abercrombie is like New Jersey," Lundgren says. "Perhaps they liked the attention in the beginning but now they don't want to be exclusively associated with the show."