Abercrombie & Fitch, the apparel retailer known for campaigns that celebrate the pulchritude and pleasures of youth, will announce today that it has canceled the holiday issue of its quarterly publication because the content and tone were deemed inappropriate after the Sept. 11 attacks.
The cancellation of the high-profile publication, known as the A & F Quarterly, is thought to be the first instance since the attacks in which an advertiser has scrapped a big planned marketing effort poised to be printed. But other companies have also been forced to alter campaigns and promotions as they struggle to strike the right balance for advertising in the last five weeks.
For instance, Coca-Cola recently dropped the upbeat slogan "Life tastes good" from campaigns for its flagship soft drink, Coca-Cola Classic. Microsoft removed some images of flight from its $200 million introductory campaign for Windows XP. And World Wrestling Federation Entertainment eliminated martial monikers like "Armageddon" and "War" from its promotions for matches.
Madison Avenue is worried because an approach deemed tasteless or tactless could generate far more castigation than typically occurs when an advertiser is labeled thoughtless or clueless. Now, a misstep could brand a company or agency as unpatriotic.
"The time we're in, it's not a typical environment, and we've acknowledged that," said Michael S. Jeffries, chairman and chief executive at Abercrombie & Fitch in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, which sells clothing at 427 stores and on a Web site as well as through the quarterly.
"It was a highly emotional decision," he added, made after extensive discussions between the corporate offices and the offices of the quarterly in New York. "It just came down on balance that this Christmas being a time of pushing the envelope was not a right thing to do."
The reference was to the provocative reputation for presenting copious quantities of playfully racy cheesecake and beefcake photography that the quarterly has earned since it was introduced in fall 1997. The layouts, by the fashion photographer Bruce Weber and the fashion advertising executive Sam Shahid, take a counterintuitive strategy to selling apparel: They usually display the college- age models in their birthday suits rather than in Abercrombie & Fitch T-shirts, pants, shorts or underwear.
The holiday issue of the quarterly was to have been no different from its predecessors. Though Mr. Jeffries declined to describe the contents specifically, he said the issue would have been centered on "kids having a great time at the holidays."
For the last two years, the publication known as a magalog because it is a catalog published to resemble a magazine has been denounced as lewd and borderline pornographic by some feminist and religious organizations as well as some politicians. To counter the complaints, customers at Abercrombie & Fitch stores who want to buy copies of the quarterly must show identification to prove they are 18 or older.
"I pay so little attention to the critics, who feel kids ought to be locked away in boxes till they're 50," Mr. Jeffries said. "All I care about is the target customer and how that person is feeling at the moment."
"The quarterly is a reflection of college life; it's fun and irreverent," he added. "But this is a time for people to feel good about coming together."
The publication is an important tool to stimulate sales for Abercrombie & Fitch, circulating about 200,000 copies per issue through sales at stores (at $6 a copy) and subscriptions (at $12 a year). Often, images from the quarterly appear as print advertisements in magazines like Vanity Fair.
The quarterly is published separately from catalogs that Abercrombie & Fitch distributes periodically, which display only merchandise and omit all the quarterly's photographs and articles. (Catalogs of marketers like L. L. Bean, Neiman Marcus and Lillian Vernon have been published or distributed after Sept. 11 without any changes in content.)
The cancellation of the quarterly comes at a bad time for Abercrombie & Fitch, which is gearing up for the big fall and holiday shopping seasons — more significant this year as retail results have been softening. For the five weeks ended Oct. 7, sales at the company's stores open more than a year a standard measurement of a retailer's strength fell 18 percent compared with figures in the period a year earlier.
To compensate for the absence of the quarterly, Mr. Jeffries said, the company will try wooing shoppers "with a very traditional Christmas in the stores," presenting posters, signs and displays "with a warm and family air." In addition, copies of the holiday catalog will be sent to subscribers of the quarterly.
The catalog will include a letter from Savas Abadsidis, editor in chief of the quarterly, explaining why the issue was canceled.
"We have found ourselves in a markedly altered cultural landscape," Mr. Abadsidis wrote in his letter, "which has made us pause and question the relevance and timeliness of our Christmas issue."
"At a time like this," he continued, "there are moments when the brash irreverence and bravado that in some respects define what we do seem strident and out of place."
The letter, an advance copy of which was provided by Abercrombie & Fitch, is addressed "To the Next Greatest Generation," and ends by noting that the quarterly is to resume regular publication with an issue devoted to spring break. That issue is due in late January.
The money that would have been spent to publish the canceled issue is to be donated to charities benefiting the families of victims of the attacks, along with donations from employees, which will be matched by the company, Mr. Jeffries said. There will also be links to organizations like the American Red Cross added to the Abercrombie & Fitch Web site (www.abercrombie.com).
The company will also donate the proceeds from sales of special T- shirts with patriotic themes at Abercrombie & Fitch stores and at stores of the company's other clothing chain, Hollister, Mr. Jeffries said. The shirts are being sold for $19.50 to $29.50 each.
By STUART ELLIOTT, New York Times October 17, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The New York Times Company. All rights reserved.