Abercrombie & Backlash

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, March 19, 2008
For the past week bloggers and reporters for marketing and advertising pubs have been typing furiously about Nationwide Children's Hospital in Columbus, OH, which plans to name its trauma center after local clothing manufacturer Abercrombie & Fitch, which donated $10 million to the hospital.

The retailer's marketing, aimed at teens, is racy and provocative, damages the self-esteem of young girls, promotes unrealistic body images and exacerbates eating disorders, says the Boston-based Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

The group has launched a letter-writing campaign urging the hospital to drop its naming plans. The call-to-action page comes complete with pictures from Abercrombie & Fitch ad campaigns, some of which have black bars across the racy bits.

When I wrote last fall about accepting donations from charitable organizations (see A Money Mission and What's in a Name?), opinions were varied about the concept of naming hospitals or parts of hospitals after corporate donors. Some said that hospitals should proceed with caution; others said it was downright irresponsible.

Children's, I should point out, was confident in its decision, in part because it had buy-in from community leaders and in part because charitable giving to Children's is so ingrained in the fabric of the community that it is seen in a positive light, according to Jon Fitzgerald, president of the hospital's foundation.

So who was right--the experts who warned of dire consequences for the hospital or those who were confident that the hospital's brand wouldn't be harmed?

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