Victoria's Secret's Media Manipulation Has Been Too Easy

Naomi Osaka! Hailey Bieber! In a COLLECTIVE!

Have you heard that Victoria’s Secret is organizing spokesmodels into something called a “Collective”? Why, of course you have. The brand has, with the media’s help, been able to shove it down all of our throats whether we want to be aware of its latest marketing activities or not, because we’re still doing the work of erasing from our deepest psyches everything it told us about our bodies over the previous 20 years.

Here’s an excerpt from an email Victoria’s Secret sent to an editor earlier this fall, seeking coverage of a PINK capsule collection with Chloe x Halle:

This comfy chic capsule collection features must-haves that you can mix and match for any mood or moment – whether you’re traveling, lounging at home, or heading out on the town. 

The limited-edition styles include a brand new Sherpa Trench Coat, as well as loungewear and activewear in classic neutrals and the sisters’ favorite color, purple…

Additionally, wanted to offer you an interview with Chloe x Halle to discuss the launch and their upcoming projects.

Here’s another, offering an interview with Lana Condor:

Lana and PINK are teaming up to encourage everyone to unwrap the true meaning of the holiday season: while this is a time for celebrating, holiday gatherings, and spreading cheer, PINK recognizes it can also be overwhelming and stressful. In partnership with The Jed Foundation, PINK is spotlighting the importance of mental health and practicing self-care this season. 

…Lana is available for virtual/phone interviews on Thursday, 11/4 to speak to: 

• Her experience starring in the PINK Unwrapped video series - a new take on the classic holiday variety show - with fellow actress, Lexi Underwood 

• How PINK x JED are providing mental health resources for young adults and how she prioritizes self-care

• Her curated holiday picks and go-to gifting ideas 

• How she plans to celebrate the season, and her favorite traditions and memories…

Recently, Women’s Wear Daily was given the “exclusive” that Naomi Osaka is part of the VS Collective, yet another eraser stroke over yore’s Angels. Hailey Bieber is also a new face of the brand, allowing for “See Hailey Bieber Model Lingerie” headlines across the click-hungry celeb and lifestyle internet.

A post shared by Victoria's Secret (@victoriassecret)

It’s a dramatic and forceful 180. I’m glad they did it and I’m also glad that at least some emphasis has been placed on diverse faces like Osaka because I’m enjoying witnessing a company with the disgusting history of Victoria’s Secret having to hand over a giant bag of money to a remarkable woman like her. I can’t knock Osaka, Lana Condor, or Chloe and Halle Bailey for running off with that cash. (Previously announced VS Collective members include Megan Rapinoe and Priyanka Chopra.)

I’m also glad that Victoria’s Secret seemingly hasn’t been able to sign these women without allowing them to basically say, even if in PR-speak, “Yeah, VS has been a pretty garbage company.” Osaka told WWD, “I remember going into [Victoria’s Secret] stores when I was a kid and wondering why none of the women on the wall looked like me.” When the VS Collective launched over the summer, the New York Times ran this about the old marketing direction:

It was, Ms. Rapinoe said bluntly, “patriarchal, sexist, viewing not just what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired. And it was very much marketed toward younger women.” That message, she said, was “really harmful.”

So OK, Victoria’s Secret has made its point — it used to be bad, but now: it’s diverse! Your body is great just how it is! But remember, none of this would be happening if it wasn’t seen as a course corrective required to sell us all more stuff. So of course their PRs are suggesting, as a potential talking point in the above email, “curated holiday picks and go-to gifting ideas.”

They successfully placed a story just like this when Bieber was announced as a Collective member. InStyle’s website ran an interview with her about the gig on November 8. Janie Schaffer, Victoria's Secret Lingerie's chief design officer, told the site in a statement, “Her authenticity and commitment to staying true to herself is inspiring. We so look forward to partnering with her in our endeavor to connect with all women and drive positive change.” Yet here’s part of the change-driving (?) Q&A with Bieber that appeared in that article:

Other questions included, “What does it mean to you to partner with Victoria’s Secret?” And, “What was it like shooting this collection?” Part of Bieber’s answer to the latter: “The team makes everything fun, and it felt like such a collaboration with everyone to help bring these pieces I really love to life.”

But the terrible thing is that a lot of women’s outlets can’t get celebrities to do things for them unless they basically run a free ad like this — for a lingerie gift box, of all things. (Ariana Grande’s new makeup line provides another example of celebrity-connected merchandise that outlets granted free advertorials.) And Victoria’s Secret is the kind of brand that would advertise in InStyle, so it probably feels risky to refuse this kind of “opportunity” without jeopardizing much needed business. Plus, Bieber is interesting to their audience, making it that much harder to turn down.

What can be done here? Media brands need to disband enemy factions and join forces — yes, I’m talking Hearst arm-in-arm with Condé Nast — to compel brands like Victoria’s Secret to pay for this content. This would have the incredible effect of freeing up the journalists on their payrolls to work on more interesting stories about important societal issues affecting their young women readers’ lives. The kinds of stories which, to borrow VS Schaffer’s language, “connect with all women and drive positive change.” Whether you call it a “Collective” or not, that’s something no clothing brand’s marketing will ever be able to do.

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