A Situation Tailor-Made For A Slow News Month

Okay, I admit it. There are some things I'm totally clueless about even when they're right in front of me. All the controversy over the "new" Abercrombie over the years is one of them; the "Jersey Shore" -- in reality, as well as in reality television -- is another. Now they've come together by seemingly agreeing to stay apart and I'm totally mystified by the expansive, global news coverage of the event.

Doug Camilli of the Montreal Gazette pretty much nails it, I guess, when he leads with: "Great PR stunts of our time, No. 4,876 in a series: Abercrombie & Fitch, the clothing company, is offering "substantial payment" to Mike (The Situation) Sorrentino, of the show Jersey Shore, if he will stop wearing A&F attire 'on the air.'

"'We are deeply concerned that Mr. Sorrentino's association with our brand could cause significant damage to our image. We have also extended this offer to other members of the cast.' No response yet."

Well, that was written before "the cast of Jersey Shore hit back at Abercrombie & Fitch, after the clothing brand offered to pay the TV stars not to wear their designs," as the Belfast Telegraph's "Woman" section informs us.



But this naked manipulation of the Fourth Estate didn't make such august publications as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, from which we often take out ledes, right? Of course it did!

"Abercrombie Wants Off 'Jersey Shore' (Wink-Wink)," reads the New York Timesheadline.

Drew Kerr, a public relations consultant in New York, tells Stephanie Clifford that the stunt reminds him of Larry Flynt offering people like Casey Anthony huge sums to pose naked for Hustler magzaine. "It's offering something publicly that you know is never going to happen, but you do it because it's just made for the press," he says. Hustler, indeed.

Observes Clifford: "It is hard to imagine Abercrombie's fans were too distressed -- they would probably be more upset if their parents started wearing the clothes."

"Abercrombie's 'Situation': Biting the Abs That Feed It," reads the headline in the Wall Street Journal.

Elizabeth Holmes reveals that no one mentioned the offer made to the cast during Abercrombie's quarterly earnings call yesterday until CEO Mike Jeffries, apparently weary of mundane queries about the company's performance, said: "Is no one going to ask about the Situation?"

"Later, when an analyst inquired, Mr. Jeffries said the proposal came up last Friday when an employee approached him with the 'terrible, terrible news' that Mr. Sorrentino had been wearing bright green A&F sweatpants on the episode that aired the night before," Holmes writes. "The solution: offer to pay the reality star not to wear the product, Mr. Jeffries said, adding: 'We're having a lot of fun with it.'"

Don't read too much into the fact that Abercrombie's shares closed down more than 8% yesterday. The sell-off has little to do with "Jersey Shore" and more to do with management's guarded comments with analysts, BMO Capital Markets senior retail analyst John Morris tells CNNMoney's Aaron Smith.

"With respect to The Situation, Abercrombie & Fitch saw an opportunity to get some advantageous publicity during the all-important back-to-school season," Morris says. "It's definitely a good water-cooler conversation."

Our standards for both water-cooler conversations and PR stunts are slipping, I submit. How can you even mentioned this in the same breath as Jim Moran sitting on an ostrich egg for 19 days in 1946 to scare up some ink for the movie, "The Egg and I"? Not only was he paid $2,000 by International Studios, he got 50 cents a pop from the 1,500 folks who visited him daily to gawk at the costume, including plumage, he had custom-made. After the big event, Moran handed out cigars, of course.

(This and other "great staged events that made the news" are whimsically detailed in Candice Jacobsen Fuhrmans Publicity Stunt!)

As an aficionado of the well-orchestrated stunt, I've collected some yellowing clippings from the New York Times over the years. Here are digital versions of a few stories about great PR minds if you care to explore the subject.

  • "Raising Obscurity to an Art, a Book Gives a Painter Undue Fame."
  • "Edward Bernays, 'Father of Public Relations' And Leader in Opinion Making, Dies at 103"
  • "Image Spinner at the Center of a Web; Rubenstein, 'Dean of Damage Control' for New York's Powerful"

As Abbie Hoffman -- the man who made the word "Yippie" famous for 15 seconds -- once said, "In New York, you can get the press faster than you can get the cops." Apparently that sentiment extends at least to the Jersey Shore ... as well as our front doorstep.

3 comments about "A Situation Tailor-Made For A Slow News Month ".
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  1. Laurence Bernstein from Protean Strategies, August 18, 2011 at 9:52 a.m.

    Considering the Jersey Shore season is well in the can, there is no way Sorrentino could have accepted the offer, unless it referred exclusively to future shows, which is an iffy proposition at best. It is also true that A&F are not all that averse to Sorrentino as a reference for their products -- the "Fitchuation" T-shirts last year are proof of that pudding. Besides which, Jersey Shore fans are A&F's customers (unless, of course, they're not, which might explain the stock price plunge).

    However, this must be seen as a brilliant PR stunt. It's clever, amusing and effective. On every level (except the investor level, which shows that investors, surprisingly, are not that easily side-tracked).

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, August 18, 2011 at 10:14 a.m.

    Considering A and F are pediaphiles delight with their edging on kiddie porn ads and push-up bras for 4 year olds, what surprises anyone. The best thing to happen is to ignore them and spend your money in the upteen number of other places.

  3. Diane Dzurochak from NONE, August 19, 2011 at 11:24 a.m.

    PR brilliance. Entertaining, fun and furthers a relationship that benefits both parties.

    On a side note, don't you mean 'yuppie' rather than 'yippie'?

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