Oh, Mary

There Isn’t One Narrative For Beauty and Sex Appeal

April 1, 2019
Bianca Mohn

The secret is out. And it’s not the juicy scandal we were expecting.

A few weeks ago, Victoria’s Secret revealed its plan to close 53 stores within the next year, with sales falling by 7% last quarter. As Heidi Klum said on Project Runway, “In fashion, one day you’re in, and the next you’re out.” American consumers have spoken – Victoria’s Secret is out.

Since 1977, Victoria’s Secret grew to be a nationwide guilty, or not-so-guilty, pleasure. Many of us can’t think of a single mall that we‘ve been to that doesn’t have one. As savvy marketers, we must ask, what happened? Where did Victoria fall by the wayside?

It’s easy to point to online shopping. Who bothers driving to a store and dealing with crowds, when you can avoid the chaos in the comfort of your own home? It’s also easy to point to increased competition and declining product quality. But that’s not the root cause of why Victoria’s Secret is failing.

Victoria’s Secret is failing because it doesn’t understand that there’s more than one narrative of sexiness, and of beauty. After decades of pushing a single narrative of white, thin, busty and blonde, consumers have stood up and said “enough.”

When we examine the history of Victoria’s Secret, it’s not shocking why the brand lost touch with consumers. The company was founded by Roy Raymond, who wanted to make buying lingerie for his wife a more enjoyable experience. When going to lingerie sections of department stores, Roy felt uncomfortable, and realized that other men must feel the same. Victoria’s Secret was, in fact, originally launched and designed for men.

Over time, the brand realized that women were buying their own undergarments, and redesigned its stores to be more approachable. But it never realized a fundamental truth – that customers want to feel good about themselves and their bodies when buying products. They don’t want to feel shame for not fitting a cookie-cutter mold.

Consumers want to be represented, especially in our world today. They’re so over the airbrushed, fake imagery that’s neither attainable nor realistic, not to mention unhealthy. They want something real, authentic, validating, and inclusive.

The transphobic remarks from Ed Razek, a senior executive, in a 2018 interview with Vogue didn’t help the brand image either. In response to a question about having transgender models in fashion shows, Razek said, “It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”

He went on to say why Victoria’s Secret doesn’t have plus size models, “We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t.” In three words – out of touch.

We can learn a great deal from Victoria’s Secret’s mistakes. First and foremost, know your customers. Put in the time, the research, and the effort to understand what resonates with them, and what doesn’t. Know where, when and how they buy your products. And commit to understanding their views and their different outlooks on the world.

Most importantly, do the hard work to keep yourself, and your teams, not only informed with social movements but open to accepting new narratives that go against your brand’s status quo. If Victoria’s Secret executives had opened their eyes, they would have seen the revolution of body positivity. They would have seen the success of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, and more recently, how social media has given voice to more diverse narratives of beauty than ever seen before. And they would have realized that the market of accessible lingerie, that Victoria’s Secret helped create, was changing with new competitors and new innovations that consumers could identify with.

There’s still a place in our world for Victoria’s Secret. But to be relevant, it’s going to have to become a more inclusive and authentic brand.