In the last eight years, American Apparel’s president and CEO, Dov Charney, has created a clothing phenomenon by breaking all the rules.
AA is the largest clothing manufacturer in the United States. They do their own design and advertising, and Charney makes all product development and creative decisions himself. He was nominated as a Time 100 finalist by Time magazine in 2009 and has won numerous awards in both fashion and marketing.
Nonetheless, Charney and the company have been surrounded by a tremendous amount of controversy: sexual harassment lawsuits, racial discrimination lawsuits, immigration issues and even a Woody Allen lawsuit. Charney’s immodest advertising has always captured attention, usually done in-house, and sometimes in his own house, where he shoots many of the photos.
So it’s not a surprise that AA’s last endeavor was both unexpected and provocative. Just over a year ago, American Apparel released the Best Bottom Contest. It was an open call for both men and women to send in pics of their booty wearing AA goods, wherein you or I were asked to vote for the best bum online. More than 1,300 people sent in pictures of their bums, and the two winners were flown out to LA for a photo shoot and featured online. As you can imagine, it garnered a tremendous amount of controversy, including a protestation outside the NYU store.
Tacky? Crude? Indecent? Offensive? Sexist for its objectification of women?
If by evaluation, you use one of the formulas my colleagues and I used at COLLINS—that is, by asking what’s both authentic to a company and relevant to culture—then this contest hits brand authenticity right on the bum. What’s authentic to American Apparel? What’s relevant to our current culture? Both answers are the same: young people, sex, and the need for exposure and fame. The strategy was to be bold and controversial—and it worked.
Sure, sex sells. However, Charney does a good job staying authentic to his brand, while driving home a firsthand experience with his customers. It’s participatory without having to leave your own house. He doesn’t have to sell you anything—he’d rather make you experience his brand. The leading girl, with almost four million views in just over three weeks, was a sure example of this.