Aerie is homing in on Victoria's Secret's biggest weakness

Aerie/Ali MittonSome of Aerie’s role models. From left: Aly Raisman, Busy Phillipps, Samira Wiley, and Jameela Jamil.
  • Aerie is doubling down on female empowerment.
  • On Thursday, it launched a new ad campaign featuring actress and host Busy Philipps, actress Samira Wiley, activist and actress Jameela Jamil, gold medal para snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, and YouTuber Molly Burke.
  • Last month, parent company American Eagle reported a 32% increase in same-store sales for Aerie. This marked the brand’s 16th consecutive quarter of double-digit positive growth.

Aerie is doubling down on female empowerment.

On Thursday, the brand launched its latest ad campaign featuring actress and host Busy Philipps, actress Samira Wiley, activist and actress Jameela Jamil, gold medal para snowboarder Brenna Huckaby, and YouTuber Molly Burke.

These women join a larger group of “Aerie Role Models” who promote the brand and body inclusivity.

“The #AerieREAL Role Models are a source of inspiration for our customers and women around the world,” global brand president Jennifer Foyle said in a statement to the press on Thursday.

She continued: “These amazing Role Models embrace the Aerie lifestyle and were chosen for their influential voices, unique stories, and commitment to nurturing an inclusive, empowering community for Aerie women everywhere.”

These women appear in unretouched images in Aerie’s latest ad campaign. Aerie has committed to not retouching any of its images since 2014. This is now one of the brand’s defining features and a key reason for its explosive success in recent years.

Last month, parent company American Eagle reported a 32% increase in same-store sales for Aerie, marking the brand’s 16th consecutive quarter of double-digit positive growth.

Meanwhile, rival Victoria’s Secret has struggled in recent years as it has come under scrutiny for failing to adapt its marketing to the times. Victoria’s Secret annual fashion show this year saw its viewership drop by 1.7 million people from the year before, and the brand came under fire after an executive from its parent company, L Brands, made controversial comments about the possibility of using transgender and plus-size models in the show.

Year-to-date, same-store sales numbers at Victoria’s Secret stores are down 5% – or 1% including its online sales.


Read more:
Overtly sexualized ads, controversial comments from executives, and sliding sales: Here’s why Victoria’s Secret had a huge fall from grace in 2018

‘Campaigns like this drive the narrative forward’

Actress and host Busy Philipps told Business Insider that she first came across Aerie a couple of years ago, when she saw a billboard ad for the brand in New York.

“I saw women that reflected the women I know,” she said.

“As a mother of two young girls, I feel a responsibility to their generation to fix some of the brain programming that has been done to our society about standards of beauty and what is realistic.”

She continued: “You can teach all day long that beauty comes from the inside, but if all the images in the media are still perfected that can still do a number on your brain; we need campaigns like this to drive the narrative forward.”

AerieAerie/Ali Mitton

Philipps said she has made the decision not to doctor anything she puts on social media, aside from a bit of filtering.

“Everyone likes a filter,” she said. That’s just good lighting.”

While the industry has begun to evolve as more brands opt for unretouched images, she said that this the first campaign she has done where retouching was completely out of the question.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little nervous,” she said.

Actress Samira Wiley had similar feelings.

“You would think someone would hear that and run the other way,” she told Business Insider. “It was pretty real.”

Aerie is now tasked with keeping its message fresh as more competitors enter the market offering similar messages, like ThirdLove and Lively, to name a few.

“We know we are first and we want to stay at the forefront [of this movement],” Stacey McCormick, Aerie’s senior vice president of marketing, told Business Insider on Thursday. This means constantly challenging the standard of beauty and representing women as their “real selves.”

As part of this, the new ad hopes to appeal to a slightly older consumer by using models of a more relatable age.

McCormick said that Aerie’s customer base has traditionally been women aged between 15 and 25, but this customer is growing up with the brand.

“Our followers have grown up,” she said. “We want to make a place for them and their daughters.”

Despite this, McCormick said the clothing assortment won’t change.

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