The iconic, over-the-top Victoria’s Secret fashion show aired on Tuesday night.
According to The Wrap, viewership dropped 32% from 2014.
But this staggering decline — and the press surrounding the brand’s unrealistic portrayal of women — are unlikely to derail the lingerie behemoth.
According to IBIS World, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brands holds 61.8% of the lingerie market. This is in part because Victoria’s Secret capitalised on a practically nonexistent market when it first emerged onto the scene.
Lingerie expert Cora Harrington of the popular blog The Lingerie Addict weighed in on Victoria Secret’s place in the lingerie sector.
“One thing many people don’t realise is that Victoria’s Secret fundamentally changed the lingerie conversation in America. Before [Victoria’s Secret], one could only buy “everyday” lingerie in a department store, and even then, only in basic colours (white, beige, black…maybe the occasional burgundy or pink). A lot of popular brands, like Playtex, were even sold in boxes! You couldn’t even see the product, much less touch or examine it. The entire experience was very desexualized, very sterile, but completely in line with American puritanical values,” Harrington explained in an email to Business Insider.
On the flip side, she said, the only place to get sexy underwear was a sex shop — something not many women were comfortable with. Even the notion of calling its models “Angels,” Harrington noted, is a sharp contrast to the ‘bad girl’ image formerly associated with sexy lingerie.
Harrington also pointed out that the lingerie culture in America is drastically different from Europe, where independent lingerie boutiques are nearly ubiquitous and the lingerie market is more mature (here, Harrington notes, most women prefer to wear bras with sportier aesthetics). Women can find lingerie boutiques in trendy metropolises, Harrington explained, but women outside of those cities women often need a mass market place to shop for lingerie — and that’s where Victoria’s Secret comes into play.
“Their marketing, their products, their way of doing business has fundamentally changed the product mix in most every major U.S. department store, and despite their faults, they are the only place to buy nice lingerie for millions of women,” Harrington said.
There are ample companies that are trying to compete with Victoria’s Secret. Negative Underwear sells no-frills underwear. Aerie appeals to young women with its body positive campaigns. Adore Me operates on a fast fashion modicum. But none of these companies come close to Victoria’s Secret’s massive size; in part because Victoria’s Secret came first.
In fact, it would take a massive shift in the sector to see a major change. The company has its demerits, but it’s here to stay. (And, Harrington pointed out, “by featuring models of colour, they’re light years ahead of the average lingerie brand”.)
“[Victoria’s Secret] has literally defined the American lingerie market for an entire generation, so until another brand is able to claim a big enough piece of the pie by doing something different, there’s very little incentive for them to change,” Harrington explained. “Right now, Victoria’s Secret could lose half their business and still be the biggest lingerie company in America by a wide margin. Apart from the occasional bit of negative press, there’s next to no external pressure to adjust anything. And since sales are the biggest factor a company looks at for making decisions, so long as those numbers keep going up, they’re getting positive reinforcement.”
The brand continues to be an incredibly successful retailer. The show might be losing momentum given this years’ ratings, but that doesn’t mean that it’s going anywhere. It just might have to listen to some discerning consumers. As Harrington wrote for Fusion, there’s an increasing demand for authenticity coming from consumers.
Additionally, University of Southern California marketing professor Jeetendr Sehdev told Business Insider this summer that consumers are looking for models and brands to which they can relate.
So if the brand is continuing to churn out stellar results each quarter, the only thing that might need to adapt is the show — but don’t expect any major changes soon. Quite simply, Victoria’s Secret doesn’t have to change anything, so why fix what isn’t broken?
“I think [Victoria’s Secret] may have to tweak the show in coming years, but there are so few mass market lingerie options in America, that it will take a while for the turning tide to affect their momentum,” Harrington said.
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