Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Victoria's Secret's Awful Marketing

One of my biggest pet peeves is when a product that's made for women and purchased primarily by women is marketed to appeal to men. Victoria's Secret has always been guilty of this practice (it's time that VS stops insisting that their "fashion show" is anything more legit than a Maxim magazine spread come to life), but their latest commercial takes it to a whole new, entirely icky level.



Even though this model is (a very young-looking) 24 years old, she could easily pass for a sexed-up 16 year old. Add onto that the ditzy limerick, cutesy-innocent poses and look of perpetual amazement and it seems a bit suspicious that VS is appealing to certain male fantasies that exclude women over the age of 18.

Victoria's Secret understands that women buy their lingerie when they want to appear sexy and impress their partner. You don't wear those lacy little thongs and balconet bras on days when you've got a date with Ben & Jerry and TLC reruns of What Not To Wear. So the assumption is that VS needs to appeal to men primarily, since women are buying their products for the purpose of appearing desirable to men. If the men don't find it sexy, the women will buy their lingerie elsewhere.

I think that's fine. But I don't see why you have to alienate women to appeal to men. Victoria's Secret is pushing a fantasy that alienates their primary consumers, women who don't want to be expected to act like ditzy, desperate teenagers in order to appeal to their partners. As much as fantasy is an important part of sexuality, I don't understand why companies like Victoria's Secret can't endorse a more sophisticated, empowering idea of sexuality. The models in their commercials always conform to the most stereotypical male fantasies, whether they're dancing around in sexy Santa suits or strutting in angel wings. Even their most intelligent commercial, in which the models are sitting on director's chairs discussing why they like the bras, they still act like giddy schoolgirls at the hottest slumber party on earth, comparing their breast sizes, touching each other and preening in their underwear.

Aside from the fact that I think their bras and underwear are overpriced and of poor quality, I don't shop at Victoria's Secret because I find it impossible to identify with the "brand" of femininity and sexiness that they're promoting. I certainly don't expect any lingerie model to look or act like me, but there are plenty of female sex symbols who appeal to both men and women because of their visible self-confidence, strength and total ownership of their sexuality. Someone like Angelina Jolie, who is the embodiment of a sexually empowered woman- she does what she wants and she does it to please herself and no one else.

For many people, Victoria's Secret is synonymous with sexiness, but I think they're passing up on the opportunity to promote more progressive, empowering ideas about what's sexy. Instead, they just play to traditional stereotypes and encourage women to define sexiness by what men want.

18 comments:

HijabiApprentice said...

I wholeheartedly agree with this post! My Mom and I were just having a conversation about this. I worked for VS in the mid-90s and from that time on I've seen a downward spiral in the amount of, hmmm how can I put this delicately, highly stylized, overtly sexual marketing. It's gotten to the point where I don't even feel comfortable shopping there. I'd much rather buy better quality lingerie at Nordstrom.

VS, if you are listening(reading, I think a lot of your stuff is cute and fun but dude know your audience and take it down a few notches.

amisare waswerebeen said...

I think you're spot on with this. I look at Victoria Secret as that perfect teenage body image that I know I won't have again. Under any other circumstance, I'm okay with that. But once I walk into that store, I feel very self-conscious because of those huge pics of the models in the windows. I also agree with you about the quality and price. I have to also say that the colors that they keep coming out with are just ugly. The store is surrounded in a sea of pinks and bright greens. I'll take Frederick's of Hollywood over VS. At least they have a wider selection, and the merchandise is actually fun.

ricanprincess said...

yeah I know...I first saw this commercial last friday night. I kept seeing it while watching what not to wear and thinking "WHAT? SHE IS 14 YEARS OLD?!?!?!?!" clearly VS is delusional, this DOES NOT make me want to buy the secret embrace crap or anything else they sell!

Rachelle said...

For some reason, VS has given off a weirdly sterile vibe to me in the last few years. Frederick's of Hollywood, while not as "classy", always makes me think of being sexy in a "dirty hot" kind of way, whereas VS reminds me of how hookers or strippers in movies are hot: they're playing a part, trying to seduce the guy, with absolutely nothing behind that except money. Does that make sense? I still buy bras from there when they go on sale because they have a decent D cup selection but other than that, I look elsewhere.

Jessica said...

I agree. There's nothing like feeling totally inferior when you're purchasing something in attempt to look/feel "sexy" either for yourself or your partner. It's difficult to be surrounded by gigantic pictures of Giselle, Alessandra, and Adriana while sizing up your own assetts (or lack thereof) in the dressing room mirror.

Annie said...

Excellent piece Meg!
Gosh it's been so long since I've crossed the threshold of any VS...but now I remember exactly why!

Laura said...

What actually bothers me most about that commercial is that the limerick isn't really a limerick, it's some f'd up thing that leads you to believe it's a limerick and then has ONE WRONG LINE.

No one respects the forms anymore.

That said, the model doesn't look all that young to me. She certainly looks older than my 18-yr-old sister, and older than most of the college students I work with. I'm not disagreeing that VS is marketing their (poorly-made) products towards men and in a way that alienates a lot of women -- because they alienated me a long time ago -- but it never occurred to me that this model looked anywhere near underage. Sure, she'd be hired to play a teenager on TV, but last I checked the age limit on playing a TV 15-yr-old was something like...30. ("Beverly Hills 90210" used to freak me the hell out for this reason. "Smallville", too.)

And to give VS whatever other credit they are due...well, at least I never saw a model in the VS catalog who made me want to force-feed her a sandwich. Everyone's trim, toned, and tiny -- but not skeletal, which is kind of a relief in this day and age of the wire-hanger model.

lauren said...

what a great observation! Now that i think about this, that is so true. Victoria's Secret definitely caters their advertising to a male audience. The only thing I can think of is that they truly are targeting males in hope that they'll pressure wives/girlfriends into buying the racy undergarments they see on commercials.

Teek said...

Actually, what bothers me most about VS is the schizophrenic nature of their lines. There are risque nighties, next to the bubble-gum colored Pink collection which looks like nothing other than 16 year old girl's slumber party wear. The branding is all over. Can you really feel sexy in something bought next to a hoodie with a dog on it that you might buy for your niece? Except it's got the branding of "sexy, naughty VS"... and I wouldn't want underage girls wearing it. It is just alienating.


...that said, I do fit their basic cotton underwear well and do occasionally buy it. You know, in the interest of disclosure.

Anna said...

I like the way this ad shows the relationship between men and women... if she was wearing hot underwear that'd be the way to sell it to me:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0NHYgeRjeKQ

CTPrep said...

Oh I can't stand that commercial. Men are not the one's buying the bras, so why appeal to them?? I've never bought a bra from VS, but I was in there just last week looking to buy one but left when I couldn't find my size (or anyone to help me). But I totally agree with you Meg. I do though like their Pink cotton hiphuggers. I think they are pretty resonably priced and fit very well on me. This is coming from someone who's only worn Hanes and VS, though! I'm sure there's much better brands out there.

Kristin said...

Absolutely brilliant! Thanks for putting my gut feeling of "yuck..you've got to be kidding" into an eloquent argument against The Ditz Bra(nd).

Anonymous said...

I agree with you and appreciate your comments and was so pleased to read everyone else's. Your observations on their backwards marketing were rather keen.. In addition to promoting self-hatred and objectification of women it increases victimization of women. I was looking at holiday cards in 2006, and these men, I can still smell their breath, started to sing partly in spanish loudly in my ear "santa baby". I did not feel like a supermodel, nor do I look like one, I just look young and have unfortunately large hair, and dark skin, making me a target for such harassement. They sang the entire commercial and I just froze in fear and disgust. Watching VS commercials turns my stomach because I receive the direct consequences of such marketing(ie aggressive male behavior) undeservingly.

Kari said...

I think a lot of the problem is that VS has gotten arrogant with its success and demi-monopoly. Frederick's is trashy, La Perla is excessively expensive, and department stores are seen as the Wal-Mart of the lingerie industry.

Women will come to their stores no matter what the commercials show, so they have changed focus to also targeting the men who see the lingerie. I agree that most of them appeal to my husband more than they appeal to me. In assuming that the commercials are targeted specifically towards men, what kind of message does that send to women who do see the ad? Men want silly stupid fluff-heads that giggle and pose like Playboy models. Strong, empowered women tend to intimidate the average male and are often labeled as ice queens or b!tches, so make sure you show off your cleavage instead of your brain.

But the majority of regular VS customers don't care anyways, so why should VS?

Amy said...

I wish I could say "I hate to disagree with you," but as an intelligent, confident woman, I really have no problem being the only poster here in conflict. Any woman with half a brain can see that VS uses models, just like every single other brand out there. These models represent (whether you like it or not) the current social notion of beauty. So now you have a choice: 1) Do I see this representation as putting pressure on me to look like that, and if I don't to hate myself, OR 2) Do I see this as an well-known unrealistic ideal that can inspire me to raise my own level of fitness to match theirs, and to pay for a glam photo shoot because I deserve to spoil me, and I could look at least that good with 3 hours of professional hair and make-up if I wanted to?

Why don't we all stop trying to pretend that if we feel bad about ourselves it is someone else's fault? We can't change how THEY act, but we can choose how we REact. If you'll forgive the bad pun, try to see the "cup" as half full. These ads don't pressure all women to look and act like that, they are an AD, and we all know how honest and realistic ads are. While we're at it, Angelina Jolie is, I'm sure, a very nice person whose charitable work and talents are to be commended. She is also probably thinner than any of those VS models right now, and publicly admitted to sexual behavior that would land any of us a nice padded cell. Let her do what she likes, she's entitled, but your insinuation that women should aspire to be more like AJ than a VS model may be misguided.

I really hope that everyone out there can find a way to love whoever they are, no matter how they look in a thong. We can't change the world, but we can change how we see it.

Amy Vickers

Slagging off said...

I agree with the last poster. I don't actually buy my bras at VS, I buy them at Target because they are cheaper and actually do fit better. However, I do buy some of my undies from VS because they are colorful and comfy, and yes I DO wear sexy underwear for myself under my boring work clothes! I like it and it makes me (not anyone else because I am not dating) feel good! Why not enjoy that? I don't necessarily like their ad campaigns but I tend to ignore that stuff anyway. If people have a problem with their 13 y/o daughter buying pink VS sweatpants next to the naughty lacey bits, then they should examine their parenting skills and tell them what is appropriate or inappropriate.

Anonymous said...

everyone markets stuff in their own way. victoria's secret does not market girls like they are 14 yrs of age. i can see how some women say this for they do not look like the models. women go to victoria's secret to buy lingerie for their own personal reasons. some girls buy it to make them feel sexy on the inside. if a woman with an out of porportion body goes in their and feels insecure, dont go in there if you feel that way. victoria's secret markets to make the woman feel sexy not like a whore. you dumb girls have to realize that it was opened up by a guy who felt embarassed to buy his wife lingerie.

Anonymous said...

This is all true. However, you have to look at it from a marketers point of view. If they brought models who had stretch marks and looked old for their ages, their stuff wouldn't sell. By using these hot, almost unbelievebly beautiful girls, they are creating the impression that if we buy their products, we will look that way too. On a personal note, I feel it is totally unfair to set such a high standard of beauty. Who looks like that?! It IS adding to the stereotypical views of how all a woman is, is a nice body in some pink lace! After all the strudes we make, it will always be squashed due to stuff like this!Ask any normal teenage girl what she aspires to look like and you will most likely hear " Victoria Secret model". It also damages the idea of what real beauty is. There are campaigns out there that are trying to bring back the idea of real beauty, but they are defeated by this stuff!