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Who Just Made a Bowl Buy? It's a Big Secret

After Years on Sideline, Lingerie Retailer Victoria's Secret Gets Back in the Game

By Published on . 1

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Guess who's coming back to the Super Bowl.

For the first time since 1999, Victoria's Secret has purchased a 30-second spot, which is slated to run once during the second half of the game. Executives at the Limited Brands unit declined to reveal what was spent on the buy, but Fox has sold spots for as much as $3 million for the Feb. 3 event.
Victoria's Secret's Super Bowl ad is certainly intended to drive sales, but it's also meant to reinforce brand equity and authority.
Victoria's Secret's Super Bowl ad is certainly intended to drive sales, but it's also meant to reinforce brand equity and authority.

This high-profile move -- last year 92.3 million viewers tuned in -- comes at a time when the iconic retailer is struggling to compete in the crowded lingerie space.

Tough Christmas
Last week, during the company's December sales call, Amie Preston, VP-investor relations, said Victoria's Secret was challenged by slow traffic during the holiday season. The retailer reported an 8% decrease in stores open at least a year, compared with a 10% gain in same-store sales last year. The retailer, along with countless others, cited a shift in the retail calendar for the decrease. But it also noted that the bra, panty, sleepwear and beauty categories all struggled, while only the sub-brand Pink, which caters to a younger clientele, posted moderate sales gains.

"The decision to do the [Super Bowl] commercial was independent of any individual business result or anything that was going on in sales," said Ed Razek, president-chief marketing officer of brand and creative services for Limited Brands. "The Super Bowl kept getting later and later, and now it's very close to Valentine's Day, so it's a perfect opportunity for us."

Valentine's Day is traditionally the retailer's second-biggest selling period of the year behind Christmas, said Jill Beraud, CMO of Victoria's Secret. But while the commercial is certainly intended to drive sales, it is also meant to reinforce brand equity and authority.

"So many retail brands that we see are getting more promotional the tougher the retail environment is," Ms. Beraud said. "I believe the tougher the retail environment is, the more you need to invest in the emotional content and branding."

'Wink between men and women'
The commercial, which was produced in-house, was initiated about three months ago, Mr. Razek said. He declined to reveal details of the spot, saying only that it features Victoria's Secret Angel Adriana Lima, a football and words that will scroll across the screen. Mr. Razek assuaged any concerns that the ad would be too sexy for network TV, saying that it attempts to strike a balance: not exactly modest but definitely not risqué.

"It will look very different from all of our previous commercials," Ms. Beraud said of the spot. "It's extremely emotional and very flirtatious. It's kind of a wink between men and women."

To coincide with the Super Bowl push, the retailer has also shifted the release of its "What Is Sexy?" list, which used to come out in May. Now the 3-year-old list will be revealed on the eve of the Super Bowl at a party in Scottsdale, Ariz. A one-hour E! special is also slated to run Feb. 9. The special, which will be hosted by Ms. Lima, will feature the "What Is Sexy?" list, as well as video from the Super Bowl party.

Ms. Beraud said she expects that condensing Victoria's Secret's efforts around the Super Bowl will lead to plenty of buzz. Still, it will be difficult to match the retailer's last Super Bowl effort. The $1.6 million 30-second spot promoted a fashion-show webcast that was watched by 1.5 million people, crashing Victoria's Secret's website.
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