I almost never write posts about current events, but the reaction to the interview with Abercrombie & Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries has me a bit fired up. If you’re not aware, he said some pretty wild things about his marketing approach that got a lot of people fired up as well – and for good reason. The backlash, however warranted it may be, has been filled with vile and hateful remarks which only contribute to the same problem.
This is what he said:
“In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids. Candidly, we go after the cool kids. We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely. Those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either.”
Is this a warm fuzzy positive marketing approach? Hell no. Does it make sense from a business and marketing perspective? Yes, it’s brilliant marketing that made him rich. Could he go about it in a better way or choose a more meaningful niche? Definitely.
I think this hits a lot of nerves for a few reasons. First, nobody likes the idea of being excluded. A lot of people have felt the effects of A&F’s discrimination and this hits close to home. Next, this guy comes out and is honest about his marketing approach, which all of us know deep down is why we like a lot of brands, bands, and products in the first place – exclusivity. Cognitive dissonance up the wazoo. Lastly, we’re fed up with the superficial brainwashing of what “beauty” should be that’s dictated by advertising, where many of us don’t fit into. All of this – boom! Prime scapegoat.
Let’s get this straight – I don’t care for him or the clothes, nor the horribly obnoxious cologne the pumped through malls. I grew up during the prime of A&F’s popular kid factor and was faced with the discrimination and bullying the brand seems to endorse. Some kids that wore the clothes bullied me and left me out of the social events because I couldn’t afford the clothes. The preppy kids were simply not my friends because of the brands I didn’t ware, it’s as simple as that.
I was essentially the least popular kid in school, for many reasons I talk about here. If anybody understands the effects of bullying and social castration it’s me – I spent 12 years of my life living through it every day. I’m also going to assume a lot of people who are filled with hate towards this man also endured social pains growing up. I think we all have to varying degrees, one way or another, have felt what it’s like to be left out. You know the feeling, don’t you?
I was fortunate enough to be too much of a pussy to take my own life, and to live long enough to spend years and thousands of dollars in the form of very effective alternative therapies. I’m grateful to have gone through the very uncomfortable work of facing my past, healing the pain, and letting go of the resentment, anger, bitterness, and thirst for vengeance. I’m lucky enough to see this perspective through the eyes of experiencing the pain and developing the compassion from it, rather than holding onto the burning coal for the rest of my life. I’m grateful for the gifts such hell brought about, and the lessons I’ve learned because of it.
I have to assume Mr. Jeffries must have also dealt with a lot of pain growing up as well. It may be because he was unattractive and unpopular himself, so he seeks to compensate for it now, consciously or through a form of subconscious revenge. Or perhaps, he was the cool kid in school and lived his life all around image, and the pain from the emptiness and lack of love in his childhood perpetuates this into his marketing. I don’t have a clue, but neither does anyone else. It’s my professional experience that hurtful actions come from hurtful experiences.
If we want to stop bullying, we must stop bullying the bully – that’s why he’s doing it the first place. Anger and pain displacement to another is at the heart of this cycle. The boss yells at the father, the father beats his child, the child goes on to bully kids at school, the kid picked on can’t take it anymore and shoots the school up. Or the bully CEO displaces his pain into his marketing, the readers get reminded of the pain they felt as they’ve been socially attacked, then they feel that pain, transfer that anger and attack the CEO back.
“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help.” –Thich Naht Hanh
The transference of pain and anger is at the heart of this problem. We can not stop bullying and discrimination by perpetuating the same behavior simply masked as a better cause. Hate can’t solve the problem it began. You can not heal your pain by lashing out your anger on another, it just doesn’t work that way. We can’t bomb our way to peace. We can’t fuck ourselves to celibacy.
Forgiveness and compassion are the only way to stop this maddening cycle. Standing up for yourself and taking a stand for what you believe is right is awesome, but doing so by bullying and attacking the CEO is just as bad as the popular kids who didn’t let poor Rudolph play in any reindeer games. We must practice acceptance first if we wish to instill in within others. How can we expect him to create ad campaigns and products that accept the differences in people, if we can’t accept him? It’s hypocrisy at its finest.
Spewing hate isn’t going to do any good, and makes us no better than him. All the activism around this is great and all, but it doesn’t need hate to fuel it – it needs love. It’s needs the love and compassion for those who are hurt. Loving ourselves and loving others.
Compassion isn’t exclusionary.
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