Can Victoria’s Secret successfully rebrand? Three experts chat with Marketing Brew

Industry experts from the likes of Cuup and R/GA share where the intimates brand’s strategy can go from here.
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Victoria's Secret

· 6 min read

In 2018, Ed Razek, former CMO of Victoria's Secret's parent company, told Vogue why he didn’t want “transsexuals,”—a term many consider outdated—or larger sized models in the brand’s infamous fashion show.

“Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is. It is the only one of its kind in the world, and any other fashion brand in the world would take it in a minute, including the competitors that are carping at us. And they carp at us because we’re the leader,” he said.

Flash forward to 2021, and industry experts say the leader has become the follower. The lingerie brand announced last month that it’s swapping that “fantasy” for reality, replacing its “Angels” with spokespeople like Priyanka Chopra Jonas and soccer player Megan Rapinoe. Marketing Brew spoke with three experts across the marketing industry to get their thoughts on whether or not the brand refresh will be effective—and where Victoria’s Secret might go from here.

The responses below have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Abby Morgan, cofounder and CMO of Cuup

Initial reaction: My initial thought was, “Good for them.” I'm very happy they’ve finally caught up a little bit with what consumers have been wanting. Culturally, they’ve felt behind for so many years. It’s an attempt to be a little bit more modern, and shows they're listening to the customers.

Cultural relevancy: There needs to be a lot more done for the brand to become culturally relevant. It has to tell a deeper story. If it's just trying to make a campaign relevant by utilizing spokespeople as the face of a brand, I don't think that it's deep enough. I don't think it's relevant enough to change the identity of what it’s been pushing for however many years.

What would you do? I would really do a lot more research around not only what everyone else is saying, but also, culturally, what are those pillars and touch points that have moved modern femininity forward? I would bring on some really big thought leaders to shift that gaze from the male fantasy—which is very much what Victoria’s Secret’s image has been for years—and redefine that through a female lens. I would invest in social causes and in grassroots communities, using my retail stores as platforms to host conversations and inviting customers in for those.

Tiffany Rolfe, global chief creative officer of R/GA

Initial reactions: I was looking at it through a couple of lenses, because one, I'm a marketing person, so I'm looking at it through that lens, but I'm also a female consumer, someone who grew up around the Victoria's Secret brand. From the marketing standpoint, I believe that brands can evolve and change and rebrand, and I've done some of those things in my career. I actually worked on Victoria’s Secret to help launch Pink way back when it first launched, so I have some connection there.

I'm optimistic in terms of where they're going. As long as it's matched with more than just the words, but actual actions, like starting to shift where their product's going, having leadership change—which we've already seen—then they could take it in a totally new and more modern direction.

Timing: It's better late than never. Up to this point, brands had brand Bibles. It was all about consistency and following these brand Bibles to a T. And I think what we're seeing now is that they need to work more like operating systems, where they need to adapt and shift based on what's happening in culture.

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Cultural relevancy: It's never enough to just have spokespeople and just have marketing. Now more than ever, marketing has to be matched with actions. They can't just put an ad campaign out, but nothing changes. So, again, are the products shifting? Are they being more size inclusive? Are they going to have more women on the board? Those are going to be the big signals that this can actually shift things. It's not going to be overnight. It's going to take some time.

Backfiring: If they don't follow up, if they make some mistakes in that they don't follow through with some of the things they're laying out, then yes, it can always backfire. If women don't really see a shift in tone and products and experience, then it could backfire, but if they follow through, then it could be a real big shift and change that they've needed for a while.

David Schweidel, marketing professor at Emory University

Initial reactions: Victoria’s Secret is trying to figure out what it means to be relevant today. Beauty standards are changing and the brand never adapted to them. There have also been a series of PR issues that the brand has faced, including its parent company’s CEO being linked to Jeffrey Epstein and another executive’s comments about transgender and plus-size models.

The company aligning itself with individuals such as Priyanka Chopra and Megan Rapinoe is a smart move, as it immediately taps into a more diverse perspective of who women are and what they want. This is a change that is long overdue for the company. Given the associations that consumers have formed about what the brand used to be about, it may be difficult for them to try to rewire what consumers think about them. It’s going to be an uphill battle.

Timing: It may be too little too late. It’s not just because of the existing perceptions that consumers have about the brand. You have DTC brands that are building relationships with their consumers. Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty line already celebrates “fearlessness, confidence and inclusivity.” These are just some of the competitors in the market now, and that ignores the baggage that Victoria’s Secret has to contend with.

Dove was really ahead of the curve with its Real Beauty campaign. Contrast that with the legacy that is Victoria’s Secret, and it’s almost night and day. Could the current efforts help? Potentially. But they’re going to need to engage in a coordinated effort across all channels for it to come across as credible to consumers.

Cultural relevancy: The brand ambassadors are a relevant way for the brand to try to adapt to the shifting sands. It’s going to depend on how well these brand ambassadors can engage their audiences and convert them into VS customers. The existing brand perceptions are working against them, so it’s a question of how effective their ambassadors will be in helping them attract customers.

Backfiring: I think [backfiring for the brand] is unlikely. Whenever a brand undergoes a repositioning, you want to look at what current customers it might lose, and what prospective customers it might gain. The latter in this case is going to outweigh the former.

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