On an apparently slow news day someone resurrected a comment Mike Jeffries, Abercrombie’s CEO, made in an interview in 2006 in which he said that Abercrombie would not be selling plus sizes, that they were focused on ‘cool’ kids.

What fanned the flames of this earlier firestorm?  More importantly, what lessons can we learn from it?


The implication that people wearing plus-size clothing aren’t cool, reminds us of our high school days when even the coolest kids suffered slights.  Bringing back painful memories is not a great marketing strategy.  Helping customers eliminate current pain is.


Mr. Jeffries statement indicates a desire to exclude buyers from his market.  That seems to fly in the face of marketing’s mission – to attract more buyers, not drive them away.  Indeed, most sales people would like to see their marketing folks generate more and better leads for them.  The thought of dissuading buyers seems inane.

But it shouldn’t.  The goal of marketing should be to attract buyers who value what you have to offer and dissuade those who don’t.  When done effectively marketing acts as the earliest filter in your sales force’s funnel and allows your sales staff to make more effective use of their time and energy.  It should also shorten your sales cycle.

To that end Mr. Jeffries comments, while crass, were effective.  Could he have found a more effective way to be exclusionary?


Of course he could.  One of the companies that’s doing an excellent job of being exclusionary and gracious simultaneously is AT&T.  While I’ve previously criticized their ad campaigns, their current ‘faster, better’ ads with young children are exceptionally well done.

These ads grab our attention, offer the gift of laughter and an appreciation for the fascinating ways in which children’s minds work while helping us decide whether or not their service is right for us.  If we’re satisfied with our existing internet access, they can’t add value which means that we’re not a potential customer for them.  Conversely, if we’re experiencing problems or slow speeds with our current provider we’re likely to give them a call.

It’s all in the presentation.  Years ago I developed a leadership program.  My marketing message said “If you’re the kind of leader who enjoys and values the diversity of ideas, perspectives and experiences your employees bring to the table, this program will help you and your employees enjoy even greater success.”

My message was purposely designed to exclude two types of leaders:

  1. Autocrats, who view their employees as automotons.
  2. Paternalists, who don’t expect much from their employees.

A goal which I believe I accomplished without denigrating either type of leader.  At the same time, my pitch was attractive to leaders who viewed their employees as I did, yet were always looking for ways for they and their employees to enjoy greater success.

Take Away

Your marketing should be exclusionary.  The more effectively you speak to your ideal customer the fewer marketing and sales dollars you’ll expend acquiring new customers – customers who are willing to pay a premium for what you offer.  Customers who are more likely to remain loyal.

If your presentation doesn’t antagonize those who aren’t your ideal customers, you leave the door open for them to become future customers should they become dissatisfied with their current vendor.

It’s counter-intuitive, but it is possible to be exclusionary and inviting.