About three weeks ago, an American Apparel ad showed up on one of the news websites that I frequent. It struck me as unusual and tasteless, so I downloaded the image for analysis. I checked American Apparel’s website, and the image seems to be part of a broader marketing campaign.
Bear in mind this is my interpretation; I am biased and know it. So what do you see in the ad? What do you think of American Apparel’s campaign? Take a look and let me know what you think in the comments.
Style, Not Substance
Most of the pictures on American Apparel’s website seem like they were home-shot at night using a very basic camera and flash. Models are primarily home-grown-looking ladies and gentlemen doing their best model impression. I like this style on premise: the images appear “spur-of-the-moment” and I think that will hook a generation of instant-satisfaction and spontaneity.
Many of the photos are past flattering. Poses are sexual and clothing is minimal. There are many shots of ladies in little more than undergarments or mesh fabric, or bra-less with jackets open other than a single collar button, or exposing their breasts in rare cases.
The borderline and over-the-line nudity is not a problem itself and it fits into the overall concept of the photo slideshows – average, everyday ladies caught feeling like posing in their American Apparel clothes – but how young the ladies appear is worrisome.
Symbolism & Sex
Anyway; the ad itself.
A bra-less woman wearing booty shorts that sparkle and a see-through “shirt”, drinking from an equally sparkly water container. Note that the low-production value .gif shows pink liquid flowing from the bottle to her mouth and down her chin. She’s also pulling at the edge of her ludicrously sparkly booty shorts.
I assume the sparkles are designed to catch attention. They tend to do that. The only thing I can think they would symbolize is the “shine” of new clothes.
The sheer shirt is another eye-grabber, though my eyes find the water bottle and shorts first. The tugged waistline and pouring pink fluid are the next-noticed parts of the photo: obvious symbols of sexuality. The rest of the shoot is even more sexual.
The ad does get my attention, so it succeeds in the most basic way. Past that, my first reaction was “What the hell?”
Generally clothing brands promote a lifestyle. Based on this ad and similar images found on American Apparel’s website, the lifestyle of the company target demographic is filled with poor lighting and masquerading as a photographer to collect photos of barely-clothed women.
The Bottom Line
The ad and campaign grab attention with sparkles and symbols of sexuality; nothing more. If anything, it implies that American Apparel clothing looks best on the floor. The message it sends to young ladies and hopeful models is equally hollow: “show skin to succeed”.
I think I would react differently if the sexuality was equal. I am glad the ladies in each ad have work and are comfortable enough to show off, but every male model is fully clothed while most of the females are semi-clothed at best (I found only one set involving a shirtless male after about an hour of searching). I guess the company is trying to be empowering, but just comes across like a white panel van with blacked-out windows parked in front of an all-girl private school.