The world is shocked that Victoria’s Secret canceled its runway show—kidding. The televised event struggled of late with poor ratings and poorer reactions as cultural tides turned against female objectification.

Brigitte Majewski, vice president and research director, Forrester Research

Victoria’s Secret (VS) parent L Brands shared in its Q3 earnings call that it canceled the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. Once famous for winged “angel” models whose exposure (pun intended) propelled them into the supermodel stratosphere, the televised event struggled of late with poor ratings and poorer reactions as cultural tides turned against female objectification.

Said chief financial officer Stuart Burgdoerfer of the show, “[It] was a very important part of the brand building of this business and was an important aspect of the brand and a remarkable marketing achievement. And with that said, we’re figuring out how to advance the positioning of the brand and best communicate that to customers . . . ”

When you compare VS’s take on quality to a new brand like ThirdLove that tailors the product’s quality to your exact needs, the difference becomes stark.

Now What? The Brand Is Still “Figuring Things Out”

Kudos to VS leadership for canceling what is surely a big-budget, legacy item. But the cancellation reveals a curious vacuum where brand-building should be.

Instead of specifying how VS would “evolve” its marketing in terms of its brand, the entire earnings call was dedicated to the blocking and tackling of commerce. Agreed: Retail execution is paramount, especially for a brand facing the crucial holiday selling season and a short one at that. But when it came to sharing how VS evaluated the show’s contribution, Burgdoerfer admitted that, historically, VS looked at short-term sales gains post-show.

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Huh. No mention of brand equity or consideration. Maybe that’s just the CFO talking, or maybe it’s VS falling into the dangerous trap of prioritizing short-term gains over long-term goals. We are left to wonder if and how VS was measuring brand metrics and building brand value at all.

VS Fails To Track With Changing Customers’ Purchase Drivers

Sans a strong brand narrative, we are at least looking for VS to deliver an exceptional customer experience. Here, too, we are left wanting. Burgdoerfer shared that “we believe the most important thing is the quality of the merchandise itself, the quality of our execution, and selling in stores and online.”

However, our research shows that when it comes to quality, customers’ expectations have elevated. Quality used to be about features and function. Now it’s about the whole experience a customer has with the brand—from advertising to purchase to use to help and ongoing engagement. When you compare VS’s take on quality to a new brand like ThirdLove that tailors the product’s quality to your exact needs, the difference becomes stark.

It’s A Long Catwalk Back To Relevance

It’s ironic that a brand so “intimate” with women, one that single-handedly revitalized the women’s undergarments category, could stray so far from understanding them. Even People Magazine sat VS down in the salon chair with its Twitter highlights, highlighting the following tweet:

“VS would rather cancel their annual strut instead of including real women with normal bodies. The very women who buy their products and keep them in business. Anything above size 4 is a sloth.”

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Ouch. The road back to relevance and resonance is not easy for any legacy brand. Ask Gillette. Or Revlon.

Our research shows that brands in a rut like VS can adopt a customer-obsessed mindset through customer ethnography, empathetic problem-solving, and agile methods. And marketers can build a better brand experience by embracing how humans make decisions, connecting to the brand experience, and evolving brand measurement. It’s just too bad that VS didn’t put the order in before the holiday rush.

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