Victoria's Secret marketing is about to look quite different.
The embattled lingerie brand announced a new marketing direction on Wednesday featuring a group of faces intended to move it beyond its famous "Angel" models. One of those faces: USWNT star Megan Rapinoe.
That may sound like a surprise for those who are familiar with both Rapinoe, one of the most outspoken progressive voices in sports, and Victoria's Secret, which has long drawn criticism for its narrow reinforcement of women's beauty standards, but it's reflective of the change needed for a brand that has seen its market share sink for years.
As the brand's new head told The New York Times, it's a change that has been a long time coming:
“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
Waters told the Times that Victoria's Secret's famous "Angels," quite possibly the most recognizable group of supermodels in the world, will be phased out, saying he doesn't see them as being "culturally relevant."
Or, as Rapinoe had to say about the brand's past marketing strategy:
It was, Ms. Rapinoe said bluntly, “patriarchal, sexist, viewing not just what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired. And it was very much marketed toward younger women.” That message, she said, was “really harmful.”
In the Angels' place will be the "VS Collective," a group of seven women that includes Rapinoe and actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas.
What Megan Rapinoe's Victoria's Secret marketing will look like
While Rapinoe appears set to be a new face of Victoria's Secret, it sounds like you shouldn't expect to frequently see the USWNT captain in skimpy underwear.
Instead, the VS Collective will apparently factor heavily into marketing materials and even feature heavily in a podcast. Rapinoe and Chopra Jonas will also reportedly introduce new product lines next spring.
From the Times:
“Of course there will be people who are like, ‘Does this make sense?’” said Ms. Rapinoe, who acknowledged that when she was first approached, “I, too, was like, ‘What? Why do you want to work with me?’” She said she had been convinced by the willingness of the brand’s executives to acknowledge their mistakes and history, and by the fact that her role is not limited to the typical “brand ambassadorship,” but extends to consulting on language the company uses, the assortment of products it offers and narrative it’s putting out.
In addition to Rapinoe and Chopra Jonas, the VS Collective also features South Sudanese refugee and model Adut Akech, Chinese freestyle skier Eileen Gu, photographer and #Girlgaze founder Amanda de Cadenet, model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser and Brazilian trans model Valentina Sampaio.
Megan Rapinoe's stable of endorsements grows
With her new marketing deal, Rapinoe will add Victoria's Secret to a list of endorsements that includes Nike, Subway, Clif Bar, Schmidt's deodorant and life insurance firm Symetra, per KRCR.
Rapinoe has become one of the most recognizable female athletes in the world thanks to two Women's World Cup titles, an Olympic gold medal, a Golden Boot and a Ballon d'Or, as well her willingness to speak out on a litany of issues with reporters and on social media.
Victoria's Secret has been struggling lately
This may all sound like an extreme about-face for the biggest name in lingerie, but Victoria's Secret is doing this for a reason.
The brand's numbers have been lagging for years, which many have blamed on the outdated stereotypes baked into its marketing and limited range of sizes. The company’s share of the U.S. women’s underwear market reportedly decreased from 32 percent in 2015 to 21 percent in 2020 as its competitors took advantage of market segments it refused to approach.
The COVID-19 pandemic also didn't help, with a quarter of physical Victoria's Secret stores closed in 2020.
In addition to those problems, even worse for the company's reputation were stories of a male-dominated, misogynistic executive cultures and the close ties between chief executive Leslie Wexner and convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein.
We'll see if Rapinoe and company are be able to reverse all of that.
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