Corporate Social Responsibility (CRS) in the Age of Authenticity and Relatability: The Case of Victoria’s Secret

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The Oxford dictionary defines authenticity as the quality of being authentic. And what being authentic signifies, it says: 1) “Of undisputed origin and not a copy; genuine; 2) Made or done in the traditional or original way, or in a way that faithfully resembles an original; 3) Based on facts; accurate or reliable: (in existentialist philosophy) relating to or denoting an emotionally appropriate, significant, purposive, and responsible mode of human life. And relatability means enabling a person to feel that they can relate to someone or something.

Nowadays, if you ask any marketers what qualities a brand be it a person or an organisation needs to have in order to thrive, authenticity and relatability, are likely to be the top answer.

Society at large and the generation called millennial in particular have become demanding of the company from which they buy. We want products of great quality, but we also want to feel empowered, to feel like our life, our issues matters to brand. Some argue that nowadays consumers are more socially conscious or others that they are more aware of spin. I would say that there is a bit of both, but that more importantly consumers want to feel connected to something, that their experience and life matter while managing to attain a physical or social ideal thanks to the products or concept your brand will sell. In other words, society is demanding of brands to engage in a form of corporate social responsibility.

Now why do I bring up Victoria’s Secret, one of the leading lingerie brands in the victoria-secret-angelworld. Victoria’s Secret is the perfect example of a company who managed to both enter public awareness, gain and maintain popularity while simultaneously having high sales rate and yet which seems incredibly and increasingly out of touch with its customers. For budding entrepreneurs the case of the lingerie brand shows that a profitable business is one that is in synchronicity with its time, and monitor and adapt to its customers’ desire and needs or else risk sliding into commercial oblivion.

Victoria’s Secret was created in 1977 by businessman Roy Raymond. Needless to say, that since the first store which was opened in the hope that men would have a comfortable place to shop for lingerie for their wife, the brand has greatly changed. I couldn’t find a trustworthy statistic on which age demographic buy the most from its stores but from what I gather, it seems that despite the fact that it tries to cater to middle class woman in their late 20s to early 30s, young adult and women in their 20s or in other words millennial constitute the bulk of Victoria’s Secret customers.

For disclosure sake, I’ll admit that I kind of like Victoria’s Secret. I watched clip of their old shows on Youtube and even though I don’t necessarily watch all of their shows, I do catch up by looking at the pictures of models.

As lingerie brand goes Victoria’s Secret is definitely old school, airbrushed models hovering or on the edge of a size zero, toned abs and no love handle are its modus operanti – for which it is often criticized. Besides, the size range of the lingerie it sells is quite limited compared to others. In the age of body positivism and acceptance, Victoria’s Secret seems almost offensively backward. Without surprise it miserably fails the authenticity and relatability test.

Conversely, other lingerie brands, especially those trying to catch up with it such as Adore You, Aerie, American Eagle Outfiter and Nixing are surfing on the #lingerieforallshape #everysizematter #keepinitreal vibe. Even thought, those brands are becoming more and more popular, none of them can be considered even close to rival Victoria’s Secret in terms of market share.

In the 90’s, Victoria’s Secret was all about sexiness while maintaining an understated elegance, than slowly but steadily the outfits became more revealing and a Victoria’s Secret’s model was supposed to embody a fierce and independent woman confidently flaunting their perfect bodies. In the past years, I have noticed that the brand was drifting away from sexy women to beautiful sex-kitten. In terms of age, the models used now, must not be any younger or at least not much from the one hired in the past. In term of their appearance, however, they look much younger. This was probably a move to reach the 18-25 demographic.

Considering that Victoria’s Secret is a lingerie brand, eponymous for espousing women sensuality, I’m quite sceptical of the benefit of this change of image. Furthermore, the brand is pushing easily recognizable face to its target audience in the hope that it will increase sales while completely ignoring what said demographic wants. All they have to do is to convey the different form womanhood take by simply hiring models of different size. Talk about being tone deaf!

Obviously, as previously mentioned Victoria’s Secret is for the moment far ahead in its field. However, it will be interesting to see how it fares in the next couple of years.

I could write an essay on how in a world in which literally anything has the potential to be turned into a money-making enterprise concept such as “relatability” and “authenticity” are cheaper than table salt. But it is neither the place nor is it the purpose of this post, so I won’t. What I will say instead is that like pretty much everything in marketing, both can be researched, assessed and analysed and then compressed into a pie chart. It also ought to be remembered that both should be used with a healthy dose of conservatism and pragmatism.

What is your opinion on corporate social responsibility? Do you believe in authenticity and relatability? What techniques do you use in order to gain new customers and keeping existing one?

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