Six months after appointing a woman as its top marketer, Victoria’s Secret is making its first major move in its long-awaited turnaround. On Wednesday evening, the underwear chain announced its biggest effort yet to overhaul its much-criticized image—the VS Collective, a group including the likes of soccer star Megan Rapinoe and body advocate Paloma Elsesser, will appear in ads and other initiatives for the beleaguered brand.
Retail experts say the news is a step in the right direction, but success depends on how Victoria’s Secret utilizes its new partners. In addition, the brand may struggle to regain lost ground from competitors that have long-promoted body positivity.
The notion of celebrating women’s bodies with realistic spokespeople like Rapinoe is a departure from the over-sexualized marketing Victoria’s Secret has promoted in the past. Yet it comes not a moment too soon, as the chain has repeatedly come under fire in recent years for its unrealistic beauty standards and a boys’ club culture behind the scenes. Former Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek, who was criticized for public remarks he made against transgender models, left the brand in 2019, the same year the retailer dispensed with its Fashion Show.
Victoria’s Secret has been speaking out about a marketing turnaround for years; but at parent company L Brand’s investor day in 2019, only one woman presented about the supposedly female-led plan.
Martha Pease joined as CMO in December from Boston Consulting Group after consulting with the brand earlier last year.
“What women really want from us is for us to show up understanding their world—they want the lens of our brand to be the perspective of a woman and they want our brand to reflect the multitude and huge dimensionality that makes up the world of women,” says Pease. “We’re not just delivering product, not just delivering a store experience, we are not just delivering e-commerce—we are delivering a relationship with women.”
She says the brand has spent years surveying shoppers and former shoppers to understand how it can build better customer relationships.
“Our brand positioning—our mantra—is that we are here for her and I’m absolutely dedicated to shifting the role we play in her life to be one of advocacy.”