Victoria’s Secret UK showed a lineup of beautiful young women wearing their lingerie under the headline “The Perfect Body” and generated over 26,000 angry signatures. Protesters complained that the campaign “offensive and damaging to women.” The uproar was not enough to get Victoria’s Secret to apologize or scuttle the campaign but they did reissue the same ad with a new headline that read, “A Body For Every Body.” Apparently Victoria’s Secret wants its naysayers to know that they were heard and the company responded appropriately. But in their rush to do as little as possible, Victoria’s Secret used the same picture and they continue to use similar pictures in all of their advertising and marketing. It’s ironic that Victoria’s Secret imposed their new headline, “A Body for Every Body” over a picture that only shows one type of body.
What I don’t understand is why the line The Perfect Body is damaging enough for people to protest but the Victoria’s Secret picture of 10 tall, thin, young, busty, beautiful women with long straight hair in their underwear is not. After all, if the problem with the headline is that it suggests that all women need to conform to a particular body type to be perfect and beautiful, then why doesn’t the photo cause the same uproar?
The bigger question is really who is the Victoria’s Secret advertising created to appeal to in the first place?
For years, advertising for men’s clothing was created to appeal to women because the reigning wisdom was that women bought 80% of men’s clothes for their husbands, sons, boyfriends, etc. While this purchase percentage has changed somewhat in the last few years, it’s still a fairly universal belief that women buy, or are responsible for motivating the purchase of, most menswear.
But women’s wear is different. Not only don’t men buy very much of it for the women in their lives (not even sexy lingerie) to begin with, but most women don’t even dress for men; instead they dress for themselves and for other women.
What this means is that Victoria’s Secret using homogenized sexy images is not created to satisfy a male view of what they want the women in their lives to look like, but is created to appeal to the very woman who are buying Victoria’s Secret’s products in the first place – few of whom probably look like the models in the ads. Instead, Victoria’s Secret is presenting an aspirational view of how the women who buy their products want to look.
Of course this practice is not solely limited to female shoppers. Regardless of whether Tommy Bahama men’s clothes are bought by men or women, it’s interesting to note that Andy Lucchesi, the model used in the ads for the past decade, can’t be much more than 40 but sports the hair color of someone almost half again as old. Tommy Bahama’s message, like the Victoria’s Secret message, is simple: You are younger, better looking, and in better shape than your age (or actual condition) would suggest and wearing our clothes will only enhance that feeling.
By the way, it’s not only clothing that uses this aspirational strategy. Few sports cars ever go faster than 70 MPH — but they could.
Few four-wheel drive sport utility vehicles ever go off road or actually do anything that an old-fashioned station wagon couldn’t do just as well – but they could.
Our Olympics-quality running shoes don’t help us run any faster, our state-of-the-art laptops don’t make our prose any more profound, our ceramic chef’s knives don’t cut our frozen pizzas any straighter, our Eric Clapton limited-edition vintage Fender Stratocaster electric guitar doesn’t make our blues riffs any deeper. But they could.
As we’ve discussed time and time again, People don’t choose what you do, they choose who you are. Not only is product competence cost-of-entry, but, as we’ve seen, most consumers don’t actually use all of the functional benefits of what they’re buying in the first place.
Instead, consumers use their purchases to confirm the aspirational dreams we all have.
The products – underwear, Hawaiian shirts, SUVs, whatever – don’t make us any better. But they could.