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Rebranding: Can An Angel Change Her Wings?


Can a leopard change its stripes?

Victoria’s Secret recently announced that it’s bringing back the brand’s most famous, most expensive, and most over-the-top marketing tool: the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. The practically soft-core extravaganza has been on hiatus since 2019. Whether this was due to increased competition, decreased viewership, evolving public opinion, or the forced resignation of VS CMO Edward Razek is debatable.

Victoria’s Secret has an interesting history. It was founded back in the 1970s but became a powerhouse after L Brands’ Les Wexner purchased it in 1982. By the 1990s, it was the U.S.’s largest lingerie retailer, known for its spicy catalogs, sensory in-store experience, preternaturally gorgeous models, and extravagant fashion shows. In 1999, the show “crashed the Internet,” and viewership at its peak topped nine million.

However, while Victoria’s Secret continued to promote impossible objectifications of female beauty (“The Perfect Body”), other brands were winning over younger consumers who valued diversity and inclusion and body positivity. Aerie, for example, pledged to stop Photoshopping models; ThirdLove offered bras built for real breasts. Victoria’s Secret continued to depict women through a decidedly heterosexual male gaze.

Battling declining sales and PR nightmares (harassment, racism, cultural appropriation, and Wexner’s close friendship and tangled financial relationship with convicted pedophile trafficker Jeffrey Epstein), the brand announced a Hail Mary attempt to course correct and rebrand. The changes are extensive with the brand announcing new leadership and model diversity (in terms of ethnicity, size, disabilities, and gender identification).

Instead of Angels, the brand is relying on the VS Collective, a group of powerful women that includes athletes, activists, and artists. Most of all, the brand now purports to be, according to Martha Pease, CMO from 2020 to 2022, “The world's leading advocate for women. We want to inspire women all over the world with products, experiences and platforms that uplift and champion them and their journey.”

Say what?

So, an experience that until recently could best be described as Edwardian bordello meets Amazonian supermodel is now going to “Leverage our brand to create opportunities for women everywhere to define themselves on their own terms and use our platform to recognize and celebrate that individuality and diversity over and over.”

Bottom line? Some of the models have real-life measurements.

And so, the fashion show, which the brand promises will “reclaim one of our best marketing and entertainment properties to date and turn it on its head to reflect who we are today,” returns. It will be very interesting to see just how much a vehicle that famously paraded fantasy women can change.

And, maybe more important when all is said and done, does anyone really care anymore?

It seems like their customers have moved on. And, maybe that’s a good thing. In the words of singer songwriter Jax, “I know Victoria’s Secret. She was made up by a dude!”

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