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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Why Victoria’s Secret Is So Desperate – and Scared. By Jenna Ness

Ah, ‘tis the season to be shopping at the mall. Pushing my nine-month-old’s stroller, I trudge alongside my sister-in-law and her own stroller. Her three-year-old son is bounding alongside us through the bedecked halls. Burl Ives is singing over the intercom as we aim towards center court, where a crowd of children await the attention of a holly-jolly Santa. Smiling to myself, I look over the children’s heads, past the bows and bells and elves.

Voluptuous mannequins stare back from a window display in black see-thru bras, thongs and garter belts.

For those of you who don’t know, Idaho is a fairly conservative state. Apple pie, church on Sunday, God-and-Country rallies held every July. And yet Victoria’s Secret chose to advertise their particular brand of holiday cheer here. I mean, c’mon, if this was Las Vegas, in the Forum shops at Caesar’s Palace, that would be one thing. But in a family mall in a conservative town? Right next to Santa’s workshop?

Cringing, my sister-in-law and I hurried off to the other side of the mall.

We aren’t the only moms to be offended by Victoria’s Scenery. Recently, some moms in Virginia took umbrage at the lewd, lesbian S&M acts depicted by mannequins in the windows of their local Victoria’s Secret. (You can see the full story in Newsweek here. ) In response to their complaints, the mall managers basically told them that if they didn’t like the display, and were worried about what their kids would see, they should simply avoid that part of the mall. Gee, thanks! And when the moms tried to show their feelings by picketing, the mall ordered them to leave. Victoria: 1. Moms: 0.

But this isn’t a blog about morality or the perils of raising a family in modern society. I could talk about that, but it’s just too depressing. What I’d like to discuss instead are two other issues brought to us by the letter M: Money and Middles. And the real reason why Victoria’s Secret is so desperate.

If you’ve seen their current forced, cheerless TV ads, featuring models who rip off their clothes and moan into their cleavage “buy me, buy me now” (or some approximation), you know what I’m talking about. Victoria’s Secret has become like that sad, sad girl we all remember from high school who was so desperate for love and attention that she gave bragging rights to half the football team.


Because Victoria’s Secret is part of the sagging middle, that’s why.

Everywhere across America, the middle is shrinking. (Except for where our waistlines are concerned, of course!) The market is getting split and separated into categories based on niche and income. Seriously, consider this:

In retail, who is doing booming business? Saks and Neiman-Marcus. Target and Wal-Mart. People either want to seriously blow their money, or hear it squeak from being pinched so hard. Middle-of-the-income department stores that are neither luxe nor cheap, like Sears and the Gap, are struggling. And Victoria’s Secret has been reduced to desperately trying to get attention it hopes will translate to sales.

Which grocery stores are doing well? Luxury grocers like Whole Foods, or discount grocers like Food 4 Less and Wal-Mart. In the meantime, the traditional grocery stores, with unionized workers and a wide range of middle-items at middle-prices, are fighting to keep market share. Albertsons, the second largest grocery chain in the country, recently put itself up for sale.

And finally, the most pertinent questions to all of us writers.

Which genres of romance are booming? Inspirationals, where warm-hearted folks fall in love without dancing or drinking, and seal the deal with a peck on the cheek. And super-sexy stories where lust-maddened couples anonymously fall into bed and go at it for twenty pages a pop.

Which authors are doing well? You’ve got the Noras and J.K. Rowlings of the world, the blockbusters that keep publishers in business. Then you’ve got everybody else. The personalized attention that mom-and-pop booksellers used to give to midlist authors is gone in this era of big box stores and amazon. So again, the middle is disappearing – and with it, the midlist.

No one really knows how to sell mass market anymore, since other than the Super Bowl there no longer is a mass market event in America. And so the Super Bowl can continue to demand – and receive – escalating advertising rates. It is unique. Everything else is splitting up. We’re becoming a country of hard-to-market-to niches. So in the absence of any sure data, advertisers throw sex and violence at the wall and hope something will stick.

In the case of Victoria’s Secret, it hasn’t worked. Limited Brands, its parent company, recently reported a third quarter loss of 13 million dollars, caused mostly by slumping sales at the lingerie chain. So take that, Victoria. On second thought, let me put this in language you’ll understand: bend over and take it.

Right in the pocketbook.

Author’s note: Last month, I promised I’d write a blog about confidence. I have a bunch of ideas about that, but I figure I’ve been wordy enough for one month. “Confidence: How to Get It (It’s Easier than You Think, Duh)” will show up some time next year.


At 9:44 AM, Blogger Tori Scott said...

Wow. Excellent and insightful, Jenna.

At 10:25 AM, Anonymous Sylissa Franklin said...

I see what you mean, Jenna, since I walk the same mall. But in self defense of Victoria's Secret, I don't think it's their fault that the mall chose to put Santa's workshop Right There. If anything its a negative for them. Here's all these new moms with kids, many still struggling to hit thier pre-pregancy weight and body tone. While waiting, these moms get to stare at the emaciated mannikins strutting (well, okay, they're not exactly strutting) in the sheer and sequined undies. More than likely many moms would vow to NEVER shop there! I know it does for me, and my baby turns 21 on Sunday! It'd be interesting to poll the fellas and see what they think about it - oh wait, never mind - it'd be a total waste of time! Great info Jenna, and a clever way to add a pet peeve and talk about shrinking mid-list at the same time!

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Jennie Lucas said...

Thanks, Tori. :-) And Sylissa, I see what you mean, but V.S. did choose the prime location at center court in the mall, knowing that activities would draw people there. The store is on a corner and has two walls of windows. On the side that faces Santa & the kids, why couldn't the mannequins model other things, like gorgeous silk nighties and luxurious robes? They're trying to sell that stuff too, aren't they?

For the record, I don't have any problem with their "fashion show" they had the other day (a colorful burlesque show, fairly wholesome compared to HBO), because that was on TV late at night. For adults.


At 1:16 PM, Blogger Stephanie Feagan said...

What an astute, succinct, and awesome blog today! Jenna, you're amazing! I concur - it's become a niche market, which is why so many small, Mom and Pop stores that offer eclectic items are doing better than anyone expected.

I also think the shrinkage of the midlist is the lack of vision on a lot of publishers' part. They're not as willing to take chances on something that's not tried and true. Perhaps because the reading public is getting smaller - or at least, that's what they say. Who can say for sure. The buying public is a funny animal, which is why there are marketing firms who get paid big bucks to try and figure them out.

At 2:07 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

This is a great topic, and you outlined the minds of today's consumers so well. It does seem like everything has to be cheap or top-of-the-line, no middle of the road anymore.

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Jennie Lucas said...

Thanks, Stef and Trish.

Re: the death of the midlist. I just bought the latest Mary Balogh -- only to get home and discover it was actually a reprint from 1991!! MAN!! It ties into earlier discussions about how Hollywood is recycling movies, and publishers are reprinting books from bestselling authors, rather than "risk" going with a new idea. But that is so short-sighted. Not to mention a major bummer to new authors who could take the spot on the grocery store shelf instead. (Honestly, 1991? So much in romance has changed since then, I'll be surprised if it doesn't seem a little quaint, like rereading The Flame and the Flower.)


At 7:47 AM, Blogger Jill Monroe said...

Gooness Jenna - you'd think the mall managers would be worried that customers wouldn't come back.

But then, they're probably only concerned about the rent they get from Victoria.

Thanks for the post!


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