Nov 26, 2019

A Brand's way or the highway, Part II

Consumers are immersed in an age of authenticity and digital transparency, where brand purpose will not be profitable if it is disingenuous and outdated.

  • According to a study conducted by Wunderman, 84% of UK consumers are only loyal to brands who share their values.
  • Understanding how to implement a sense of brand belonging through a relevant and meaningful purpose is now a prerequisite to stay competitive amongst brands.
  • After months of speculation, Victoria’s Secret has officially announced that their annual fashion show will not take place in 2019 after the previous year brought its lowest ratings to date, half the audience of their 2016 show.

“Purpose is the reason why a company or brand exists, it is the underlying essence that makes a brand relevant and necessary to its customers.” Bill Theofilou, Senior Managing Director for Accenture Strategy, Advanced Customer Strategy and Competitiveness Centre of Excellence.

Brand purpose in a nutshell

A brand purpose is built off promise, driven by emotion, and rewarded with opportunity. Without these three pillars, consumers will fail to remain loyal to a brand. This concept can be described as, “a brands reason to exist beyond making money”, this provides an opportunity for brands to connect with their consumers over shares values.

Brand’s can be seen ‘jumping on the bandwagon’ where fleeting industry trends are concerned, while they are doing so to remain relevant, an increasingly savvy demographic means this can appear disingenuous.

62% of participants in a recent survey of nearly 30,000 participants worldwide, said they want companies to take a stand on social, cultural, environmental and political issues close to their hearts.

Companies find themselves in a digital age where transparency is at the centre therefore, to survive this shift, they must be authentic, remain relevant and above all, create genuine connections with their target demographic. All companies were established and built with a purpose in mind but in their development, may have forgotten about their origins due to rapid growth or difficulty in evolving that purpose.

“Purpose sits firmly at the centre of a brand’s vision and informs every business decision. A brand must solve a problem or meet a need. How well it does that, and how well it creates loyalty, affinity and connections with its customers determines the winners from the losers.” Bill Theofilou


Back in August, American lingerie giant, Victoria’s Secret made history while sparking conversation after hiring their first openly transgender Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio aged 22.

The same year this announcement was made, Ed Razek their Chief Marketing Officer, was interviewed regarding the participation of transgender models, answering:

“No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.” 


Razek apologised publicly for his comment but quit his position soon after Sampaio was hired.

Les Wexner, L Brands (parent company to VS) chief executive comments, “There are few with Ed’s passion and talent in this industry, but I have faith in our incredible teams, talent and product, and I look forward to the future as we grow and change.”

Recent developments:

VS have officially announced they will not be hosting their annual fashion show this year. In light of other lingerie brands, for example, Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty who are celebrating real women’s body as opposed to the stereotypical thin and tall VS models who strut in lingerie and stilettos, which consumers are now voicing as “backwards and off-putting”.

Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty show was everything that Victoria’s Secret wasn’t. Airing just three months before VS's final production, Rihanna not only provided women with a glamorous, beautiful and inspirational spectacle but achieved this by celebrating all races, body sizes and abilities. This show gave these real women the spotlight to celebrate their sexuality on their terms, without conforming to VS’s outdated and straight, male tailored view and this is what truly resonated with their audience.

Stuart Burgderfer, the chief financial officer of L Brands comments, “We think it’s important to evolve the messaging of Victoria’s Secret, we will be communicating to customers, but nothing similar in magnitude to the fashion show.”

“It’s great to see brands learning from their mistakes, listening to their audiences and evolving with the times. Victoria’s Secret has made mistakes but hopefully, are moving forward and listening to the backlash, such as hiring transgender model Valentina Sampaio.” Hettie Headford, creative designer at CLICKON Media.  

Quite simply, the brand has struggled to update their image to reflect the evolved beliefs of consumers and as a result, not only have sales suffered but their entire brand purpose hangs in the balance.

What is being done?

In the past couple of years, VS has seen falling sales, shops closing, and increasing competition from start-ups and other retailers. They are struggling to find their place in a market where diversity and authenticity are more valuable to consumers than a very sexualised brand image.

Retired Angel, Karlie Kloss took a stand when she responded to Razek’s interview with Vogue

“I didn’t feel [Victoria’s Secret] was an image that was truly reflective of who I am and the kind of message I want to send to young women around the world about what it means to be beautiful.”

After leaving VS, Kloss enrolled at NYU to study feminist theory to develop her understanding of the values she felt VS did not share, however upon reflection she later comments that during the era of the #MeToo movement, the VS show is, 

“so relevant in the world we live today [...] There’s something really powerful about a woman who owns her sexuality and is in charge”.

Therefore, despite conversation that labels the hiring of Sampaio as cynical on the brand’s part and lacking genuine authenticity, the brand appears to be taking active steps towards inclusivity and adapting their brand purpose towards transparency and authenticity.

“Brands have to stand for something and be authentic today, I just hope that VS is evolving for the right reasons, if not their audience will call them out and lose interest in the brand. Victoria’s Secret has lost their USP, so they need to figure out what they want to stand for and listen to their audience.” Headford, CLICKON Media.

VS took another move towards inclusivity in October when they hired their first size 14 model, Ali Tate-Cutler as part of their work with BlueBella, a female-founded UK based lingerie company.

Though some consumers might respond to this change as ‘too little too late’, it is clear that VS are listening to their consumers and taking steps to reposition their brand purpose with the current values of their demographic. A true rebranding does not happen overnight and it is positive to see a once dominating brand like VS, listening and acting on their audience’s beliefs to provide a more authentic and relevant image.

Photo creds: getty images