Lessons in Social Media from Abercrombie & Fitch and "The Situation"
Yesterday it seemed like everyone on Twitter was talking about Abercrombie & Fitch, a brand I hadn't heard mentioned since about 1999.
Everyone was talking about Abercrombie & Fitch because the company released a statement saying they were offering to pay MTV's Jersey Shore cast-member "The Situation" to not wear their brand.
We should all know by now that social media can be an incredible--free!--tool for marketing and public relations, but you have to be extremely creative, and Abercrombie's anti-marketing campaign here strikes me as brilliant. By working with Jersey Shore, Abercrombie toed a fine line and came out way ahead.
Most of the time, when a stiff management type says "we're going to create a viral video for YouTube," or "let's join Twitter and make a trending topic," the efforts are doomed for failure. You can't force something to go viral unless it is unique, funny, or outrageous, and if you go for outrageous, you run a huge risk of offending people. A few years ago capitalizing on Jersey Shore may have provoked a backlash, but today, the show and the creatures in it are more ingrained in popular culture, and are generally deemed acceptable fodder for a joke like this.
The lesson to take from Abercrombie's campaign is that if you really want to go viral you probably will have to step out into that minefield--and it is indeed a minefield. Microsoft had to apologize for a probably well-intentioned, but ill-thought through Tweet, telling its followers to remember the recently deceased Amy Winehouse by purchasing her albums.
On second thought, social media is more like crossing a rickety bridge over a minefield... with crackling lightning all around you. But the opportunity available at the other side is irresistible. You can only get there by being quick and agile, but you have to remain under control.