Victoria’s Secret has long been synonymous with its angels – a gaggle of flawless models in push-up bras and televised angel wings in over-the-top fashion shows.
But what was once seen as fun and ambitious is now a dreg for consumers, who in recent years have soured on the brand’s promotion of unattainable beauty (which, in retrospect, has always seemed designed more for the male gaze than for the consumers that Victoria’s Secret was looking to hold).
Too myopic to keep up with changing consumer behaviors and priorities, including the social media-based body positivity movement and the growing profiles of lingerie brands that offer extended sizes, such as Third Love and Savage X Fenty by Rihanna, society is floundering.
Faced with rampant sales, Victoria’s Secret recently restarted, installing a new CEO (the former had social ties to Jeffrey Epstein) and a new board of directors made up almost exclusively of women. He also traded his flock of supermodels for a series of new ambassadors who collectively represent modern inclusiveness and diversity. Soccer star Megan Rapinoe, actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, plus-size model Paloma Elsesser and transgender model Valentina Sampaio are among the brand’s new faces.
No one can guess how consumers will react to the company’s 180 degree turn. Will it be perceived as opportunistic – an exercise in ticking cultural boxes to attract consumers? Time will tell us.
Regardless of how it’s received, the reboot is a valuable case study for all brands, including fine jewelry companies, that are entrenched in old-school marketing methods, such as hiring all size 2 models, then taking photos of them in prom dresses and strolling diamonds. through rolling country hills (or some other incongruous backdrop).
The flip-flop may be more valuable for jewelry brands that still market their wares, including engagement rings, only to men, rather than the women who wear them.
There’s no denying that marketing to women has changed dramatically over the past decade. And that’s largely because social media has become a big media. In 2021, it is the vibrating motor that guides consumer choices and behavior.
New trends, ideas, slang and styles are born on Instagram and TikTok. And if you’ve spent any time on these platforms lately, you know that the artifice is out (and literally being called upon by users), as diversity, authenticity, compassion, and reality reign.
Due to the outsized influence of social media, industries including fine jewelry can no longer expect women to worship Photoshopped images of cellulite-free, wrinkle-free ideals of femininity.
Yes, the Kardashians still excel, peddling their highly filtered (and surgically performed) cutie mark. But the idea of perfection when it comes to femininity is being challenged on many fronts, and these challenges are creating lasting shifts in attitude. Plus-size model Ashley Graham, to name one powerful cultural disruptor, proudly shows off her pregnancy stretch marks on Instagram and is one of the highest-earning models in the world.
And as consumers become more discerning, integrating transparency, sustainability and philanthropy into their buying decisions, American businesses have no choice but to echo the tone and friendliness of social platforms on which they live. Ignore the changing cultural tides, as Victoria’s Secret did to so long, becomes an existential risk.
De Beers, the world’s largest diamond producer, began to shift away from marketing its diamonds and jewelry exclusively to men and women around 2017 – the year De Beers director Stephen Lussier , said in a speech, “The old way was, basically, a man saying, ‘Thank you. I grant you this diamond. And that’s not how women want to be gifted these days.… In the ad we’ve worked on, historically, the breadwinner says, “Please take care of the family while I do other things .” But in the new world, he has to say, “I’m so proud of you for everything you do. We are making this change and our diamond will continue to be this symbol. It’s very subtle.
Four years later, the change probably shouldn’t even be that subtle. Yes, men are buying jewelry, and increasingly buying for themselves (thanks Harry Styles and his pearls). And of course, men still play an often significant role in sales of engagement rings and special occasion jewelry.
But women are, overwhelmingly, the public and the first consumer of fine jewelry, and their purchasing power continues to grow. They are no longer interested in angelic perfection, they want what is real.
Top: Victoria’s Secret promotional photo of new Ambassador Megan Rapinoe (photo courtesy of Victoria’s Secret)
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