American Apparel’s Misguided Search for “The Next Big Thing”

nancy-upton american apparel

24-year old Nancy Upton entered American Apparel’s “Next Big Thing Contest” by mocking its entire premise.

This is the 2011 campaign I mentioned in class this evening.

When American Apparel decided it would (finally) market clothes for “plus-sized” women (size 12 – gasp!), they launched a campaign–offensive from its very first moments–titled “The Next Big Thing.” Contest copy explained that they were looking for “booty-ful” models…a woman who needs “a little extra wiggle room” and has a “fresh face and curvaceous bod.”

Offended by the contest, its tone and the company’s usual sexualized campaigns, 24-year old Nancy Upton decided to submit photos mocking the contest and American Apparel. In addition to photos of her bathing in ranch dressing and sensually eating chicken wings in a pool (among others), she added a bio that said only: “I’m a size 12. I just can’t stop eating.”

The photos were uploaded to a contest website where other consumers could vote for their favourite model; Upton thought her snarky submission would make a point and cause people to reflect.

ranch dressing nancy upton american apparelAnd then she won.

What do you think of the company’s actions…and Upton’s response?

Nancy Upton's message to American Apparel: I'm just a model who loves her salty chips.

Nancy Upton’s message to American Apparel: I’m just a model who loves her salty chips.


8 thoughts on “American Apparel’s Misguided Search for “The Next Big Thing”

  1. Stephanie Rathakrishnan

    Sadly, I am not surprised by the company’s actions. I felt that they handled this situation wrong from the beginning, starting with the name of their contest. I’m surprised that they did not expect something like this to happen, as they were clearly offensive. Their rebuttal to Upton’s submission was also ridiculous. I don’t buy that they had positive intentions and that they feel that the idea beauty is inside out. I think that their actions regarding this issue will make many consumers reflect on the brand and put things into perspective. Personally, I always knew that American Apparel branded itself with provocative and controversial campaigns however, this situation makes me reflect on whether I want to associate with the brand even more.

  2. charizardwilson

    I agree with Stephanie that they started out the campaign wrong from the start, ‘the Next Big Thing’ is clearly not a great name and quite offensive. I don’t know if the term bootylicious would have bothered people as much, since for many it does not a have negative connotation attached to it. I do although understand where the company is coming from by not awarding her the prize, obviously you would not have someone represent your brand that clearly does not like or respect it. Not to mention Upton would not have became the spokesmodel for the brand anyway. That is not to say that American Apparel dealt with the situation well, this was a chance for them to own up to their mistakes which they did not.

  3. obeverett

    I agree with the comments above, the choice of words used in this campaign were horrible. I give the brand credit for expanding their brand into a more inclusive line of sizes, and could have been a step forward in getting out of their “notorious industry bad-boy” image. It makes me wonder if they could have possibly compromised with Nancy Upton and somehow worked with her in a parody-like campaign where they admit their wrongdoing . Since she is a blogger she is an influencer for most people and her what she says about American Apparel can go a long way.

  4. deborahlamm

    I think that Upton’s response is the most interesting “‘That being said, someone will. While I disagree with the message American Apparel is sending in the way they handled this competition, other people do not… And I respect that opinion.'”

    It’s funny to think that even though Upton sent in photos as a parody to make fun of American Apparel, she respects the choices that American Apparel made.

  5. Allison

    I agree with deb. However I wonder if she is suggesting she respects their choices in terms of a business and the way they “make a profit”. That being said its still an interesting statement to make considering the rest of the article.

  6. raquelparedes

    I agree with the above comments. The choices of words used in this ad campaign were doomed to insult people, like “EXlent”. The company must have known that these word choices would have a negative effect on many though, so maybe they didn’t care or thought that it could be used to their advantage in some way. Like we were talking about in class, the company should have discovered a way to control the competition more, because even though Upton states that she wouldn’t have accepted the deal had they let her win, American Apparel’s decision to go against the publics’ vote looks poorly on them.

  7. leevivianly

    I agree with all the above comments. Starting with the name of the campaign (“The Next Big Thing”) and the way that they handled the situation – everything about it was just offensive and seemed to contradict their intent of supporting beauty inside and out. Their response to Upton’s submission was just downright disrespectful – and in a sense, American Apparel did not live up to the obligations of the contest as they decided to award another candidate although the public already voted for a winner. I’ve never really been a fan of American Apparel, especially with all the controversy surrounding their brand image and the questionable actions of their CEO; but this situation really emphasizes the negative values and objectives of the brand. I can be certain that their extension of the plus-size product lines won’t be much of a success because they just single-handedly offended that portion of their expansion target market.

  8. Rachel MacDonald

    American Apparel is constantly doing things to make people angry and because of this, it doesn’t come as a shock to me that they would start this campaign. However, like many of the above comments, I think that the entire campaign has been presented and dealt with poorly. If they really wanted to convey a positive campaign for plus-sized women then they wouldn’t have used puns as their titles–like “The Next Big Thing” and “XLent”. Therefore, I think that Upton’s response was appropriate and the support that she has gotten from voters illustrates just how negatively people are actually interpreting this new campaign and what it stands for. Given American Apparel’s reputation, it is hard to imagine that they launched this campaign for any other reason than the fact that they are going bankrupt.


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