Is the “Fitch the Homeless” Campaign a Good Idea?

English: The image of Abercrombie & Fitch today.

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s a new viral movement in response to comments and actions by Abercrombie and Fitch CEO Mike Jeffries. I won’t get into the details about what he said, but if you Google his name you’ll have plenty to read. He’s made some very insensitive remarks about the type of market that his store targets (“cool” kids), and apparently A&F burns clothes rather than donating them in order to preserve their brand image (I’m not sure if this has been verified or not).

In response, a filmmaker named Greg Karber has suggested that we take all of our old A&F clothing and donate it to the homeless. He wants to make A&F the “official brand of the homeless”. He’s even created a video, which is quickly making its way around social media. So the homeless get new clothes, A&F gets their comeuppance, and everything works out, right?

I felt uneasy watching the video, but couldn’t quite articulate why. Was it the way that Karber was just throwing the clothes on top of people laying on the street? Was it the way that he decided to create an entire movement without asking the participants if they even wanted to be involved? After pondering it for a while, I found an easier way to explain my discomfort.

How would you feel if someone came up to you and told you to wear something because it would devalue the brand?

It doesn’t matter if you needed clothing or not, it would feel pretty shitty. Just because someone is sitting on a sidewalk doesn’t mean that they have no pride. Just because someone needs assistance doesn’t mean that they are obliged to cater to the whims of those that are providing it. I would feel a whole lot more comfortable with this campaign if it were initiated and perpetuated by members of the homeless community due to a perceived injustice on their part.

I understand that people are upset with Jeffries, but the best way to retaliate is to vote with your dollars. Just don’t shop there. Ask your friends not to shop there. Put him out of business. A brand whose entire value is based on image doesn’t have much to stand on. Make your voice heard on Twitter and Facebook and other social media that you don’t think that wearing A&F is a cool thing to do.

We don’t need to demoralize others to stand up for what we think is right. By doing so we are, in essence, reinforcing the idea of a caste system where more value is placed on those with privilege. That makes us no better than Jeffries. People’s hearts are in the right place to want to speak out against his bigotry, but I’m just not sure that this campaign is the right way to do it.

Strong Moms Empowered

Similac (a company that makes formula) has come out with a new advertising campaign. It is called “Strong Moms Empower”, and is a call to remove the stigma and judgement associated with formula feeding. This is how the company describes it:

It’s time for moms to feel good about the decisions they make for their children and their families. The StrongMoms Empower campaign, brought to you by Similac, is a call-to-action to create a more supportive and less judgmental environment, online and off.

You can go online, “sign” a pledge, and then add a badge to your blog or website to show your solidarity with the cause. There is also a discussion on twitter under the hashtag #strongmomsempower.

I have so many mixed feelings about this campaign. Regular readers of my blog know that I am a strong advocate for infant feeding choice. I actively fight to dispel the misconceptions that surround formula feeding. Any support that I can get in spreading that message is more than welcome.

I’m concerned that it’s a formula company who is initiating this message. I’d like to think that they are doing this out of an altruistic concern for our mental health, but I suspect that it has more to do with the bottom line. Formula feeding moms already take so much crap for being “in the back pocket of the formula companies”. It’s commonly assumed that our decision to formula feed is influenced (or solely decided) by advertising. It takes away from the power and autonomy that we used to make our decisions. I know that this campaign will be wielded as a weapon by those who choose to condemn us for our choice. I’m also worried that the validity of the message will be challenged due to where it originated. There will be those who ignore it altogether; the thinking being that because it came from a formula manufacturer, it must be wrong.

Strong Moms EmpowerOn the other hand, I do use formula (not Similac, but another national brand). Why not have the industry that I have entrusted to provide my baby with nutrition stand up for me and my rights? Regardless of their motivation, the message is an important one. Although formula companies have a shady past when it comes to their marketing practices, I don’t think that they are all inherently evil.

I’ve written posts about the massive amounts of judgement that moms receive in regards to every parenting choice they make. It’s ridiculous. We all complain about it, but we do it to each other. The day that I wrote my post about being nice to each other, I took a personal pledge to support other moms more and judge less. I encouraged others to share my post and to take some time to say something nice to a mom every day. I think that Similac has the same idea, just on a much larger scale.

Do I think that this campaign will make a difference? I don’t know if it will make anyone judge less, but perhaps it will make moms who have been judged feel more validated in their choices. Regardless of where the message is coming from, that will be a good thing. And, like it or hate it, this marketing initiative has people talking. It is a concept that resonates deeply with parents. Do I like it that Similac is exploiting that for financial gain? Maybe this is a case where the ends do justify the means. So, for now, I will display the badge on my blog in solidarity. I will align myself not with a corporation, but with the idea of a judgement-free parenting community where everyone can feel accepted.

Dove Real Beauty Sketches

Dove has recently introduced a new marketing campaign and the video has gone viral. If you haven’t already seen it popping up in your Facebook newsfeed, you likely will soon.

The concept is a social experiment in which women are asked to describe their physical appearance while a sketch artist (who hasn’t seen them) draws them. Then a person who has recently met them is asked to describe them, and the sketch artist draws that description. The two drawings are compared and invariably the stranger’s description of the women’s appearance is more “beautiful”. The message? That we are more critical of ourselves than others are.

This video has resonated with a lot of people, and I have to admit that it touched me the first time I saw it. There are critics of the campaign as well, such as this blogger who argues that the message that the video is sending isn’t as wholesome as it appears. These women are judging themselves and being judged based solely on their physical appearance, and the definition of beauty that this video promotes is a narrow one (thin, white, blue eyes).

I completely agree with the criticisms of the advertisement. But in spite of that, I think that there is a broader message that we can take away from it.

We’re critical about more than just our physical appearance. We frame characteristics about ourselves in certain ways, ways that are not always flattering. I can’t even count the number of people I know who admittedly call themselves stupid, annoying, talentless, unlovable…and on and on. What would a social experiment look like where men and women were asked to describe their personalities, and then people who knew them do the same? I would wager that we would still be harsher critics of ourselves. It doesn’t matter what aspect of ourselves we’re labelling, the truth is that we’re hard on ourselves. This advertisement focused on physical beauty, but when we watch it we know that our self-condemnation doesn’t end there. And I think that is the message that’s resonating with people.

I wish that the Dove campaign had included non-physical traits as part of its experiment. Instead of turning people off by focusing on a confining standard of beauty, it could have really opened people up to looking inside themselves and questioning the stories that we tell ourselves about who we are. The campaign is imperfect, but it still begs the question: how do you describe yourself?