News of the Victoria’s Secret fashion show cancellation broke at the end of last month. Officially, the reason given for this change was for the fashion retailer to “evolve” their marketing. 2019 marks the first time since the show’s television debut in 2001 that CBS will not broadcast the event to millions of viewers. The fashion show became nearly synonymous with the Victoria’s Secret brand. Footage from the previous year’s show played on video walls in stores across the globe. Stores also featured framed still shots of the models, which begs the question – how did this one-time industry leader transform from broadcasting to millions of viewers per show to cancelling their once brand-defining event?
Victoria’s Secret Angels
The fashion show features Victoria’s Secret models, or “Angels”, complete with individual custom wings, which can weigh up to 20 pounds per outfit! The term “Angels” was coined to reference the supermodels walking the runway clad in bedazzling lingerie sets, blowouts, stilettos, and multiple pairs of fake eyelashes. The retailer was largely able to capitalize on free advertising for the show via the Angel’s social media activity.
Accompanying the Angels are musical guests providing live performances at the show. Three artists usually perform with fantastic theatrical lighting and effects that could put the greatest thespian acts to shame. Since it’s first television debut in the mid 90’s, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show grew at an unprecedented rate, reaching peak viewership in 2001 with 12 million viewers watching. However, content that captivated the masses nearly twenty years ago is drastically different from what consumers are interested in seeing today.
Victoria’s Secret Slow Response to Societal Shift
A societal shift over the last decade has taken place, with a growing consumer expectation for inclusivity in terms of gender equality, body positivity, and diversity. Companies must acclimate with the waves of change, particularly those that exist in the B2C space. In the face of societal shift, Victoria’s Secret’s leadership team was alarmingly slow to accommodate the new set of consumer expectations. Instead, Victoria’s Secret remained firm in their stance, implementing the same formula that produced a successful show in the early 2000s. Victoria’s Secret maintained typical casting patterns and retained models promoting unrealistic beauty standards, arguably the opposite of what the public was asking for. To make matters worse, former CMO Ed Razek stated in a 2018 interview with Vogue that “transsexual” and plus size women aren’t included in the fashion show because they don’t align with the Victoria’s Secret “fantasy” that the previous Angels achieved. Razek later apologized for his remarks, but the damage had already been done as Victoria’s Secret was labeled a regressive, exclusive, and outdated brand.
Failure to Meet Consumers’ Demands
This disconnect between a company executive and modern expectations was detrimental, to say the least. To make the Victoria’s Secret fashion show appear even more outdated, Savage x Fenty by Rhianna held an incredibly well-received lingerie fashion show at New York Fashion Week 2019. The show featured everything consumers loved about the Victoria’s Secret show: the supermodels (many former Angels), amazing fashion design, and everything consumers in 2019 have been asking for–gender inclusivity (we’re talking Laverne Cox strutting her stuff on the runway), size inclusivity, and an incredibly wide range of diversity.
The Victoria’s Secret fashion show transformed from a brand-building powerhouse event to a nearly textbook example of marketing myopia (a.k.a. fixating on a single aspect of a product/service offering and failing to read and respond to market demands).
Hand in hand with failing to see where the fashion show was falling short and losing viewers, Victoria’s Secret product offerings also started contributing to the consistently declining sales in the mid 2000s. As it turns out, glittering undergarments don’t translate well in terms of sales. There’s a huge difference between what designs make for an entertaining televised fashion show and what consumers are looking to purchase and wear in their day to day.
The top-selling product line for Victoria’s Secret was Body by Victoria, according to Business Insider. Featuring products like memory foam pushup bras with soft fabrics and no underwires, Body By Victoria was finally targeting a value consumers looked for when buying undergarments, comfort. Although this line was a step in the right direction, Victoria’s Secret still overlooked industry trends and was incredibly late to transition from pushup bras to bralettes and sports bras. Victoria’s Secret was still encrusting bras with actual gemstones for the runway show while consumers were turning away and seeking out other retailers that better understood the need for comfort.
The combination of constantly being behind on consumer purchasing patterns, evolving societal expectations, and a myopic focus on an outdated fashion show (that lost viewership by the millions year after year- 12.3 million in 2001 to only 3.3 million in 2018 ) put the fashion retailer into a downward spiral. Victoria’s Secret has hardly updated it’s marketing strategy within the last few decades and is facing the challenge of completely restructuring it’s brand positioning if the retailer wants to stay relevant (and profitable) in the years to come.