Other fashion brands have followed Aerie’s lead, including Victoria’s Secret, which overhauled its entire marketing approach earlier this year, including adding endorsers such as soccer star Megan Rapinoe, actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas and body advocate Paloma Elsesser. Legacy brands such as Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister have also shifted towards this style of marketing over the past few years, tackling body positivity and fighting against bullying in campaigns.
The approach is found in other categories, too. Several direct-to-consumer brands launched more recently, such as Parade, Billie, and Glossier, have an element of social responsibility baked into their ethos, be it size diversity, realistic advertisements, or inclusive model selection. Of course, Dove set the standard way back in 2004 with its “Real Beauty” campaign.
Ads that prioritize realistic beauty standards still have to sell products, and real beauty is still a kind of beauty, albeit a more diverse interpretation of a formerly narrow standard. Charcy Evers, a futurist and social impact strategist, notes that the moniker of “real” beauty still places the idea of good looks at the center of the conversation, opting for body positivity over the perhaps more uncomfortable and radical position of body neutrality.
“I think a lot of people are jumping on sustainability and inclusivity and diversity right now as more, you know, just formality, because they have to,” says Evers. “As opposed to, it's really intrinsic to their brand. And I think that that will become crystal clear for brands that do not kind of walk the walk, but just talk the talk.”
Aerie has an advantage because it has been pushing the message for a while. It has paid off in the form of stellar sales results. “We've seen this rapid pace of growth, this twenty-six consecutive quarters of double digit growth,” says McCormick. Despite the pandemic and decline of malls, Aerie plans to open 87 new stores this year.