Maybe Victoria's Secret was Never Woke.

Maybe Victoria's Secret was Never Woke.

For the past few years, an imposter brand strutted around the aisles of the internet in a lacy cloak of wokeness to appease a new wave of customers whose knickers were in a knot while the real Victoria was hidden deep in her boudoir, scantily clad in beautiful lingerie wondering what on Earth had happened.

I must admit, I was sad when I first heard Victoria’s Secret conceded to public and shareholder demands and updated their image to be inclusive and their message to be more body-positive. Not because there is anything wrong with inclusivity or body positivity. On the contrary, I was (and still am) a champion for both. It was about damn time consumers and brands alike championed diversity and inclusion. What I couldn’t understand was why Victoria’s Secret (VS) followed suit. There were plenty of great brands in the sleepwear, underwear and lingerie space crushing it with inclusivity so why did every brand need to essentially be doing the same thing? Surely some brands could remain who they had been despite the ever-shifting tides of the cultural zeitgeist. If any brand could withstand such a tantalizing temptation to jump into a sea of sameness to make a buck it must be Victoria’s Secret.

The brand was founded on the premise of appealing to men to buy sexy unmentionables for the woman in their life, aiming to make the shopping experience fanciful, easy and more intimate. Victoria’s Secret was a 30+ year masterclass in a brand knowing itself and a start-up North Star for how to stay on brand. An institution of sexy. A brand authority so strong, that they were virtually the Kleenex of the thin strips of nylon and lace we referred to as underwear. So heavenly was the brand’s ownership of “sexy” that their models were canonized as Angels. To have your name rolling off the tongues of consumers as part of the cultural lexicon was every brand’s fantasy.

But the high priests and priestesses of the church of moral supremacy, and their digital congregation, crusaded the worldwide web to cleanse it of antiquated preferences and adjust it to a more righteous path. It was an inquisition. Those who did not fit the new mould of social progress and values were fated to either conversion or cancellation. Brand ethos be damned; as cancel culture crucified VS’s reputation and bottom line, they tripped and fell from the heavenly height in 5” heels. Instead of the runway, they ran away from who they were and adopted a new pathos they hoped would see them embraced with open arms (and wallets).

Who could really blame them though? How many closeted fans of VS, of sexy itself, felt their own underwear tighten a bit at the possibility of their views, beliefs, likes, and dare I say fantasies, being found out in a world that had redefined the word for all?

Or had they really changed? Was their transformation into a new creed of sexy not coerced at all but instead adopted of their own volition? Had they had a change of heart and perspective or were they just trying this new look on for size?

Turns out it was the latter.

And in doing so, they committed the ultimate sin against branding: Being inauthentic.

As a brand, being steadfast and knowing who you are, while not trying to be something for everyone, is the better bet.

That doesn’t mean never changing, but it does mean not copying or pivoting just to follow the tyrannical whims of minority interests that care not for your mission or ideals. Brands need to remain focused on the long term and make decisions rooted in sincerity.

So many of the mistakes brands make today are fuelled by bad short-term and near-sighted incentives that bend their motivations into insincere or desperate territories.

It’s like, if we started fuelling up our vehicles with forest mushrooms that grow on trees and the whole world turned bananas and wanted to destroy every inch of forest for this new fuel source — should Patagonia start making clothing campaigns for logging? No, they should double down on their environmental conservation values unless, of course, they’ve actually changed what they believe.

A genuine change of heart would be authentic, but placating the cultural mob and pandering to their whims erodes the solid ground of a brand’s foundation. It makes a brand more vulnerable when facing the headwinds of changing consumer demands. This has maybe never been so prominent as it is today with our neighbourhood-friendly social-justice warriors and their cause de jour. It’s so common in fact, that there are names for it. Greenwashing is one. Virtue Signalling and Woke Washing are two others. And the savvy consumer of today isn’t going to stand for that, for long.

This is why it’s no surprise that for VS going woke didn’t work, and they’re aiming to bring their sexy vibe back. What’s the old marketing adage — “By trying to please everyone you end up pleasing no one”? There are many factors at play that will determine their ultimate success, but I suspect the messaging itself will work for them because it is who they are.

When the news broke that VS was ditching woke, I heard a collective sigh of relief from people I know, but a trepidatious utterance of “finally” followed by a nervous and practiced glance around to ensure they hadn’t offended anyone.

Sexy, the kind VS sells (again), never went out of style; moreover, there remains an established market for brands with a diverse and inclusive ethos and product offering right there alongside it. There was always room for both and there always will be.

I wish they’d flipped and not flopped. As a founder of a new company bringing sexy back, I felt Victoria Secret’s recent media blitz was made of the stuff we’d been dreaming of when we kicked our venture off 12 months ago. That said, we take a different point of view; we thrive on a little competition, and who doesn’t love a comeback? In the end, I do respect the move VS made. Game respects game. It was a bold reminder to all that it’s okay to be who you are, make mistakes while trying things out and like what you like, while others can like and purchase what speaks to them. And we don’t need to fight about that.

More to the point though, we at Naked Revival are not against other brands. We know what sexy and healthy mean to us and we’re willing to take some heat if it means we can create something powerful and enduring that our customers will love.

Peace, love and sexy underwear. 

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