9th August 2019 Anthony Cospito

Ad Week: Are Victoria’s Secret’s Days of Featuring only “Barbie-esque”models over?

“Victoria’s Secret had a slow decline in how they’ve connected to women,” Mai said. “But it really started erupting in the #MeToo era, and this era of millennials who don’t aspire to be someone that they aren’t. They want to be the best person they can be, not something that’s unachievable.” – Quynh Mai

A major leadership change is afoot at Victoria’s Secret: Ed Razek, the veteran CMO of parent company L Brands, is leaving.

Razek’s departure is both a long time coming and a relative surprise. The executive, who has been with Victoria’s Secret since 1983, was the mastermind behind the brand’s most famous marketing ploy, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. He’s overseen the rise of the production from its origins as a small event held in a hotel ballroom to a global phenomenon featuring celebrity musical guests and the world’s best-known models on the runway that raked in more than 10 million viewers on broadcast television.

In recent years, however, the show has been falling from grace: Viewership last year was down to just 3.26 million, and earlier this year Victoria’s Secret announced it wouldn’t be airing the show at all on network TV. Stores are sluggish, too: This year, January sales were down 1% from the previous year, compared with 4% growth in 2018. In February, L Brands announced it would shutter 53 Victoria’s Secret stores. According to IBISWorld, Victoria’s Secret has about 63% of the lingerie market, though its place of dominance is on shaky ground thanks to DTC competitors like ThirdLove and Lively.

Razek also stirred controversy last year when, in an interview with Vogue, he claimed there was no public interest in a more diverse array of body types on the runway, as well as outright stating that he didn’t “think we should” cast a transgender model in the show.

“It’s like everything you wouldn’t say to your target consumer, he said in that interview,” said Bob Phibbs, CEO of The Retail Doctor, a New York-based consultancy.

The backlash was immediate, and Razek apologized, but the damage was done. Consumer sentiment around not just the show but Victoria’s Secret in general had changed, as the sales figures show. And with his comments, Razek had become the face of what was wrong with Victoria’s Secret: an older male executive who insisted on only casting models who are thin, tall and cisgender. Or as Quynh Mai, founder of agency Moving Image & Content, who works with retail clients, called it: “an objectified, Barbie-esque model.”

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