To paraphrase advertising giant, Bill Bernbach, “Writers are concerned with what they put into their writing. Persuaders are concerned with what people get out of it.”
Victoria’s Secret should have been more concerned with what people were going to get out of this ad. They should have been able to anticipate the reaction and should have never run the ad.
For readers, an ad is not just a message from an advertiser, it is a message about an advertiser.
The headline, “Perfect ‘Body’”, superimposed across 10 beautiful models in Victoria’s Secret underwear told women that Victoria’s Secret is a company that feels that these 10 young and thin models have perfect bodies and the other 99.9% of women do not. Victoria’s Secret seemed to disparage the bodies of the vast majority of women.
Why would Victoria’s Secret spend money to insult millions and millions of potential customers? Of course, that was not their intention. It is easy to see what Victoria’s Secret intended, but what they intended is irrelevant. What their ad actually communicated is all that mattered.
The problem is the headline. Victoria’s Secret wants to show women how to feel the way they would like to feel. They know women want to feel feminine and sexy and like they have a wonderful body. They would like to suggest women can feel that way by wearing Victoria’s Secret underwear. Victoria’s Secret’s mistake was saying explicitly something they want women to feel. An advertiser should not simply state the the way they want people to feel. The advertiser should lead people to feel that way.
A different headline would have resulted in a different reception for the ad. Even if the headline were as lame as “Body By Victoria’s Secret”, women wouldn’t have been upset by the ad.
A number of women claimed that Victoria’s Secret is doing psychological damage by creating an unrealistic vision of the ideal female body.
Marketing works by fulfilling desires not creating them. Victoria’s Secret is not creating an unrealistic vision of the ideal female body. They are using the society’s vision of the ideal female body to sell products.
A marketer talks about what customers want and shows them how to get it. Or better, a marketer talks about how customers want to feel and shows them how to feel that way. Victoria’s Secret has been very good at talking about how women want to feel and suggesting they can feel that way by buying Victoria’s Secret underwear.
Victoria’s Secret is not just selling underwear. Victoria’s Secret is selling a feeling. As long as Victoria’s Secret provides that feeling better than other brands, their market share is safe. If they continue to suggest there is only one type of perfect body, they put their market share at risk.