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In an effort to revive its increasingly outdated brand image, Victoria’s Secret just announced a women’s empowerment-themed rebrand. Doing away with the iconic Angels, the new faces of Victoria’s Secret are a slate of women trailblazers, including elite athletes and gender equality advocates such as soccer star Megan Rapinoe, plus-size British model Paloma Elsesser, and Priyanka Chopra.
Perhaps predictably, conservatives and straight men are very, very upset.
Following the announcement, a flood of social media users began to confidently predict that the lingerie company would soon go bankrupt thanks to such a losing marketing strategy, reviving a popular slogan on the right wing: “Go woke, go broke.”
“This is going to fail so spectacularly and will soon be the go-to example of ‘go woke, go broke,’” declared Free Beacon contributor Noah Pollak. Conservative pundit Jesse Kelly went even further. “Some of the dumbest people run the most powerful companies on earth and it’s hilarious watching them destroy themselves,” he tweeted. “Megan Rapinoe?? Nobody likes feminists. Nobody. Even other feminists hate feminists. They’re the least appealing people on the planet.”
The thing is, all of this is flatly inaccurate. For one thing, Victoria’s Secret is definitely not one of the most powerful companies on earth by a long shot. In fact, the brand’s sales revenues had been steadily plummeting for years, and it’s been accused by many of failing to adapt to the times while more body-positive brands such as Third Love, Aerie, and Lively eat into their market share. Between 2016 and 2018, Victoria’s Secret’s market share dropped from 33 percent to 24 percent, per Business Insider. “Ideals are changing, and people want diversity and representation, ethnically and racially, but also in terms of shape and body type. For retailers to not adapt or evolve can be a fatal flaw,” Kalinda Ukanwa, a marketing professor at the University of Southern California Marshall School of Business, told The Washington Post.
It’s pretty well-established by now that women’s empowerment sells. I’m sure this Victoria’s Secret move is another cynical corporate attempt to cash in on whatever a #GirlBoss is. What’s confusing is why conservatives seem to suddenly believe this is not a marketable strategy. Dove was a pioneer in the space with its massively successful “Real Beauty” campaign. When Aerie announced that it would no longer retouch or photoshop models’ bodies on their lingerie ads, the brand was greeted with widespread acclaim.
The idea behind “go woke, go broke” has also proven to be largely a myth. Women-led films do not suffer at the box office. Nike’s brand has not gone under after its support of Colin Kaepernick. And NASCAR has not noticed a drop following its Confederate flag ban in support of the organization’s only Black full-time driver, Bubba Wallace, who had been the target of racist attacks.
This very strange twist in the culture wars saga seems more like a reflexive right-wing pushback on anything that could be viewed as inclusive. The team in charge of the rebrand have not used the word “feminism,” instead stating the intention simply to respond to the changing desires of their consumer base. Because that’s how capitalism works. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want,” chief executive Martin Waters told The New York Times. It is, after all, a store that markets clothing to women.
Of course, it wasn’t just men who took up the “go woke, go broke” rallying cry. Conservative women also took to social media to decry the move as an “assault on femininity,” which seems an odd thing to say. “Is Victoria’s Secret really trying to pretend that women aren’t into being sexy and beautiful too? I don’t want to look like Megan Rapinoe. I can be feminine AND empowered, thanks,” opined Jenna Ellis.
For one thing, there is no bra on earth that is going to make Ellis look like Megan Rapinoe, just as there is no bra on earth that will make her look like Miranda Kerr. The brand will still produce lacy thongs and bras and teddies. It just may also include items like nursing bras, which hardly feels like an assault on traditional femininity.
That the complaints (those that don’t include outright homophobic and misogynistic trolling and abuse) have been making comparisons between Rapinoe and the iconic Angels of the early 2000s like Miranda Kerr and Adriana Lima is also telling. The new generation of Angels would have been helmed by the likes of Kendall Jenner or the Hadid sisters, not Gisele Bundchen. But the younger consumer base who identifies with these women have clearly shifted in terms of what they look for in a brand. Data shows millennials and zoomers both look for a sense of social consciousness in the brands they choose to shop at.
The knee-jerk complaints about anything catering to a more socially-minded consumer are as outdated as the VS Angels themselves, clinging desperately to the vestiges of an increasingly unpopular patriarchal culture.