Victoria's Secret is one of the two strongest brands in the portfolio of parent company, L Brands, (the other being Bath & Body Works), and has been a major trend setter in the world of fashion for decades. Indeed brand marketers legitimized the lingerie category almost single-handedly with its ubiquitous catalogs featuring impossibly sexy supermodels. The brand's annual fashion show long ago became a world class event, but sales are shrinking. What's going on?
Declining revenue over the past few years is a major concern for L Brands, and the issues seem to revolve around...you guessed it...changing consumer tastes. Bras comprise 35% of sales, and this is the category that is collapsing the fastest. Many contemporary women, rather than wearing pricey, padded bras that are designed to increase sex appeal are instead adopting a more conservative approach, prioritizing comfort. New styles that cater to a variety of body shapes have been introduced, and marketers are obviously appealing to the market's increasing desire for authenticity, ease, and fit. On a more macro level, perhaps women are changing their overall attitudes about underwear.
But Victoria's Secret is known for sex appeal and has been using it to sell products for years. Apparently this strategy no longer resonates as much with the brand's "market potential", and marketers have rapidly changed their approach in response. New product introductions include a variety of sports bras and bralettes (free of wire and padding). Marketers are even using the slogan "No padding is sexy". Really? It was perfectly sexy for decades, Vicky. Alas, results have been lackluster so far, the famous catalog is now gone, and the CEO is on her way out.
For a company that has formed its entire brand identity around being sexy, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to throw all of that away after decades of investment. Switching from supermodels to far more realistic models of all shapes and sizes might make sense from a cultural standpoint, but is being too "real" a bit "too much, too soon" for the brand? It does appear that the marketers at L Brands are being a bit reactive, clearly surprised by how quickly consumer attitudes and behaviors have changed. But were the changes really all that quick, or did these marketers simply fail to see social trends as they emerged? Perhaps there are better, more subtle ways to address market changes over time rather than attempt to change a brand image quickly and carelessly. It took decades for Victoria's Secret marketers to teach consumers about what the brand represents, and so it stands to reason that it will take longer than a few years to change those attitudes. Haste makes waste. It's not too late for marketers to take a step back and adopt a more reasoned approach to optimizing the brand for a new era.
Discussion: Are the recent marketing mix changes made by Victoria's Secret marketers too little, too late? Does the downturn in the brand suggest that sex is no longer selling? What prescriptions do you have to address the market changes that apparently took these L Brands marketers by surprise?
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