Talk about branding whiplash. Several years after noisily ditching its skinny supermodels in favor of real women with real bodies, Victoria's Secret is bringing them back. It's just launched "Icons," a high-fashion campaign starring former angels Gisele Bündchen, Naomi Campbell, Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel. Younger glamour gals are also part of the effort, including Adut Akech, Hailey Bieber, Paloma Elsesser, Sui He and Emily Ratajkowski.
The move comes as the company continues to bleed sales, despite multiple efforts to connect with young American shoppers.
"The company is desperate," says Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, the customer loyalty consultancy. "You can tell it's like someone is saying, 'Gee, those angels used to work for us. Let's get the band back together and see if that helps.'"
In its most recent quarterly results, total sales fell 5% to $1.41 billion, compared to $1.45 billion in 2022. But comparable sales decreased by 11%, and in North American stores, they plummeted by 14%. Net income sank to $1 million, compared to $81 million in the year-ago period.
The new campaign, shot by acclaimed photographer Mikael Jansson, heralds the launch of the Icon by Victoria's Secret, a new collection of bras, panties and lingerie that "celebrate the shape of you."
While Victoria's Secret is still the largest lingerie retailer by market share, it's long since lost any loyalty edge. Passikoff tells Marketing Daily the brand’s woes stem from its persistent inability to read the room, as Gen Z and millennial shoppers flock to brands that encourage women to feel better about themselves.
"They respond to marketing that says, 'I'm going to be beautiful, I'm going to be me, and I'm going to feel good about it.' They want to be comfortable in their own skin, and in their lingerie. Victoria's Secret hasn't gotten that right in years. As a brand, it's lost meaning for customers."
Among the best-performing competitors? American Eagle Outfitters' Aerie is beloved by Gen Z both for its comfort and never-retouched models. And younger shoppers also favor online companies, such as ThirdLove, True & Co. and Adore Me, which Victoria's Secret acquired last year for $400 million.
The “Icon” campaign comes just after the Ohio-based company announced details of its Victoria's Secret World Tour, the comeback of the Fashion Show it axed back in 2019 due to declining ratings and growing criticism of its model-driven marketing.
The reboot is scheduled to stream next month on Amazon Prime, with rapper Doja Cat as the headliner. It will highlight a group of 20 innovative global creatives.
Victoria's Secret’s leadership has also been in flux. Victoria's Secret chief executive officer Amy Hauk left abruptly in January after just eight months. Martin Waters, chairman and chief executive officer, assumed her duties and said she would not be replaced.
In June, the company promoted Greg Unis, formerly chief growth officer, to brand president of Victoria's Secret and Pink, its banner aimed at younger shoppers. And it added Anne Stephenson as chief merchandising officer, who joined the company from Torrid, the teen retailer.