Hospital Sells Out Kids W/Abercrombie Alliance

abercrombie-billboard.jpgTalk about emergency and trauma! What’s next, a Victoria’s Secret rape crisis center? Ugh. Is ANYthing off-limits?

Stuart Elliott of the New York Times wrote about the $10 million Abercrombie & Fitch donation to Columbus (now ‘Nationwide’) Children’s Hospital gleaning naming rights to the hospital’s E&T department. Stomach pump time…

Gee, let’s just hook up an IV to feed kids sexualized ad slop in a HOSPITAL directly now.

My, my. The industry loves to trounce me on that phrase, so I’ll oblige and take the hit for a “colorful pullquote,” as long as it helps guide people to the harsh reality of the APA study on consequences to kids from all this sexualization. (hey, maybe I should trademark it, since our film research for Body Blitz: Media, Shaping Youth reinforces this triple-fold, eh?)

Thankfully, Lisa Ray at Parents for Ethical Marketing has saved me considerable rant time on this one, with her updated, embedded links to related Abercrombie & Fitch trashy antics (thongs for 10-year olds, group sex, racial/gender slurs, gosh, take your pick)

As the gamers would say, “w00t!” This enables me to focus on the industry angle of responsibility and accountability (or lack thereof) since this A & F hospital commercialism is a slam dunk no-brainer as to where I stand on the ‘what are you people thinking?’ corporate billboard of life.

Readers? You can take action via CCFC (here’s the pdf of the letter sent in to the hospital to sound off and launch some PR pressure)…


Before I get to industry ethics, and the predictable commentary that hospitals are broke, so are schools, yadayada, (institutional poverty, we’ve heard this argument countless times, doesn’t make it right) let’s first lighten up to take a peek at the inevitable spoofs already surfacing. (a sense of humor is what got me through the Target brouhaha, btw, like Kurlander’s ‘Caption This’ contest)

This cheeky “A&F kiddie sexpot hospital” photo at left was created by the Consumerist capturing the irony perfectly…(click their link for detailed commentary and enlarged image)

To do them justice, I strongly suggest you’ve got to see these faux, finessed billboards enlarged in their original context…Well done, gang…Much like Rye Clifton’s Axe/Dove mashup video posted on YouTube ‘disrobed’ Unilever for talking out of both sides of its mouth, these pictures are truly worth a thousand words…

af-reality-rant.jpgThis one (at left) is an incredibly realistic A&F “billboard bulge” (complete with pithy ‘parking in rear’ copy) from Reality Rants.

Almost hard to discern if the visual’s even a spoof…

And therein lies the problem…sexuality is plastered in every ambient nook as urban wallpaper, objectifying, normalizing, idealizing…desensitizing.

After all, when you’ve got ‘Playground Pimp and “Hooters Girl (in Training)” sold as ‘humorous infant-wear,’ then it becomes a thread-like distinction between whether you’re contributing to the problem by using toxic tactics and absurdity to spoof as part of a larger solution…

It’s hard to tell the ‘players without a program’ so to speak…

Shaping Youth tested some counter-marketing concepts with a line of tees using iconographic spoofs and outrageous slogans at one point to fuel our nonprofit’s ventures in ‘Cafe Press’ style…

But when we “focus-grouped” the tees among youth, some kids thought they were “seriously edgy” and wanted to know where to get them!

So…er…uh…we ditched that idea for awhile.

underagegirl2.jpgLikewise, PSAs like this one against statutory rape, which tried to use ‘shock schlock’ to be edgy and wry, came off as exploitive and demeaning to children (to me anyway).

See Beauty and the Breast article for more on this visual at left, and CopyRanter for a hearty comment section debate on whether it’s effective or not)

You get my point. This ad was the one that prompted us to lampoon toxic advertising that has no limits, tastelessly asking, “What’s next advertisers? ‘Pedophiles are people too’ tees?”(-–even regular reader/collegiate ‘videogamer’ was offended by that one, as he said, “and that’s hard to do!”)

gilly-hicks.jpgLet’s move on to Bob Garfield’s excellent Ad Age column on yet another highly sexualized new A & F brand…Gilly Hicks.

It’s been called the X-rated Abercrombie & Fitch by some, yet in the case of industry blog Adrants as well as Unbound Edition, it’s a bit of a snore…(just not fiery enough, I guess) Delving deeper into industry’s take on this ‘lifestyle’ campaign…First off, we know that its history is completely bogus regardless of how lacy the pretty panties are…

Much like Euro-elite sounding Hàäagen-Daz originated in the Bronx, the intimate undies of Gilly Hicks were completely fabricated…placed with a history “Down Under” (get it?) in Sydney, Australia.

Whether it’s meant to be a kitsch nod to the “wildness” of the outback in Crocodile Dundee style or a ‘faux fantasy arte form’ targeting teens, the exercise in sexual seduction speaks clearly to ‘aspirational’ desires.

(btw, you ‘must be 18’ to watch the semi-soft porn vignette; watch how fast kiddies swap out that date…a marketing tactic in and of itself)

Ironically, their sepia-toned ad video was sent to me with this note, “Isn’t this absolutely beautiful advertising?” I sat there slack-jawed, thinking…

“Um…well…I could give you an executional observation on the artfully shot sepia-toned spot as a creative director/film type…

OR an ethical critique in terms of targeting teens via YouTube channels to land them onto the main retail site for a ‘soft porn’ experience…you choose.”

I could then bring up this thread on Yahoo’s answers forum which claims to be ‘desperate’ to know if there’s a GH site to get the undies (sounds like a seeded marketing strategy to me) and this equally titillating response, “Yes but they haven’t put the clothes they have on yet they just have a naked video of people,” followed by the URL.

Now I ask you…does that NOT sound like teen-baiting to you?

Even Bob Garfield admitted it’s obvious they’re targeting teens…

Their ads scream A&F/lifestyle branding pitch, albeit more elegantly than the brash A&F bump-n-thrust unzipped campaign cues in ‘Let’s get naked! And, by the way, what was your name again?’ style…

Granted, hardcore porn (vs. soft porn) is everywhere on the net, available to the same teen audience, but Garfield also made the strong point “so is crack, but does that mean McDonalds should be selling it.”

Wow. Could it be? I’m in full agreement? First Steve Hall on the Target debacle, and then Bob Garfield on Gilly & Hicks?

I suspended my disbelief that my industry colleagues were actually going to make sense for a sec, and made it all the way through Garfield’s great column

…until he lost me at the very end by saying:

“…Without moralizing or living in denial, maybe we should be sad that the culture permits a major corporation to pander to adolescent sexuality.”

Ahem. “The Culture?”

We ARE the culture. Advertising IS the culture. Marketing and media ARE the culture.

There is no invisible ‘we’ to shirk this off upon!

He goes on to say, “The Sydney fiction is a petty lie, but the normalization of casual sex is simply a reflection of the real world, where increasingly anything goes down under. We can wince all we want, but this is one the culture has decided for us.”

Really, Bob? “The culture” has decided this? “The culture” has decided squat.

Media and marketing have decided this.

Media and marketing ARE “the culture.”

WE, industry brethren, are defining and objectifying these kids as sexualized beings before they can even define themselves. WE are responsible. WE are accountable. “WE” as in corporations like Abercrombie + Fitch…WE as in ad agencies functioning as the purveyors of dreams…We as influencers and persuaders…journalists and media…

Not “the culture.”

That’s unmitigated hogwash to deflect and blame an amorphous blob of ethereal nothingness…WE are all culpable.

WE are also the ones that CAN turn this tanker around and use media and marketing to focus on POSITIVE pursuits instead of undermining kids’ sexual health and physical and mental well-being.

As long as industry on all sides does the ostrich bit, squirming uneasily that they PERSONALLY are not responsible for “the culture” then Houston, we have a problem.

Most industry bigwigs on controversial accounts live in self-focused myopia that THEIR kids aren’t obese, or depressed, or maladjusted, and don’t see why all these “other kids” are having “issues,” it must be that confounded ‘culture.’

Or worse, indie branding veterans (folks like me) play the “I would never do THAT” card to separate themselves from ruthless colleagues and corporate predators without seeing that every single producer and consumer of goods has a role here. (inside or outside the industry)

Last I checked, that pretty much accounts for the entire planet.

You may have heard, Shaping Youth has been building allies of probono recruits ready and willing to to use media and marketing as part of the solution rather than the problem…Parents, academics, corporations, creatives, youth themselves. Sure, we’ve hit some snags on privacy concerns, but hey, even those of you who have to come aboard anonymously, for your job protection, we still need your eyes and ears!

We’re starting our own “CIA” (Children’s Intelligence Activists, Cyber Internet Advocacy, Caring Informed Adults, call us whatever you want, we’re undercover and infiltrating an agency or biz near you)

It’s way past time to leverage the talents of sponsors, supporters, angel donors, and like-kind services to put childhood ahead of profit, public health and well-being ahead of ‘the next great thing.’

We have plenty of ‘good guys’ in this business…Now it’s time to show the world what can be done when youth, technology, mobilization, and social media come into play for POSITIVE change.

Friends, countrymen, lend us your skill sets…You in?

Visual Credits: A&F NYT photo: Kiichiro Sato, Associated Press

Hospital spoofs: The Consumerist blog, Reality Rant

Related Resources to Take Action/Sound Off!!

Take Action!! Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood

A&F Timeline (Trashy Toxicity Targeting Teens)

CCFC pdf of the letter sent to the hospital

CCFC Press Release Decrying Hospital Naming Rights

NYTimes Article: When A Corporate Donation Raises Protests

NYT: Comments section

Ad Age: Children’s Hospital in Hot Water Over Corporate Sponsorships

Full Coverage at Parents for Ethical Marketing

Including Related posts:
Sexy Teen Retailer Bad, Lead Toy Maker Good
Abercrombie Name Should Not Be on Children’s ER
Abercrombie Presents the Hottest Emergency Room for Children Ever



  1. Speaking of ‘loaded’ sexually charged stuff…check out Net Family News’ link re: middle-schoolers snap-happy on cell cams to post nude pics to each other…er…uh…anyone wanna find a pattern here on the trickle down media impact of ‘sex-everywhere’ objectification and young kids???

  2. All…here’s a hotly debated post re: the ‘parents should be parents’ and ‘don’t buy the stuff’ usual argument that floats around the blogosphere re: early sexualization issues…

    Check it out here:

  3. It is a pity hospitals are broke and so much money was given away to private banks on a “bailout”, and in my opinion it will get even worse….

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