An unlikely retailer is beating Victoria's Secret at its own game


victoria's secret fashion show 2013

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images

Victoria's Secret models.

Victoria's Secret is in danger of losing its customer base.

With controversial ads such as those in the "The Perfect Body" campaign and its lack of plus size models on its roster (as evidenced by an online petition by plus-size model Brittany Cordts), women feel as though they cannot relate to the super-svelte Angels. The brand has even received backlash for not offering plus-size underwear.

Meanwhile, another brand has proven to be successfully in the lingerie industry: Aerie.

Aerie, American Eagle's lingerie spinoff, has drawn in customers with its ad campaigns.The company abandoned Photoshop more than a year ago, and sales have been soaring.


american eagle aerie no airbrushing

Aerie/American Eagle

One of Aerie's unretouched ads.

"We left beauty marks, we left tattoos - what you see is really what you get with our campaign," brand representative Jenny Altman told Good Morning America last year.

The move to nix retouched images obviously paid off. On a conference call last year, Aerie sales had skyrocketed 9%. American Eagle Outfitters (Aerie included) noted a strong first quarter of 2015 as well.

Women are becoming savvy to tricks like Photoshop, and increasingly don't trust brands that use it,  branding expert and marketing professor at University of Southern California Jeetendr Sehdev told Business Insider.

"We have seen the backlash," Sehdev said. "Those perfect bodies are not even the bodies of the Angels. And people know that now...people are fully aware, consciously or subconsciously, whether they are looking at a Photoshopped image."

And those false images detract meaning for consumers.


"What consumers [are looking for] today more than anything else is meaning," he said. "And meaning is going to come from relatability - 'can I really relate to this brand? Can I derive enough meaning out of this that it's going to be good for me to engage and pay a premium?" 

Victoria's Secret's models are significantly less relatable than Aerie's are. 

While Aerie's models are still on the slimmer side compared to plus size models, they do not need to adhere to the notoriously strict limitations that Victoria's Secret Angels must (5'9'' with desired measurements of 34''-24''-34''). 

Aerie, on the other hand, is currently promoting a hashtag #aeriereal, encouraging shoppers to show off their "real" bodies - the opposite of  "perfect" body.

Aerie also offers a generally more comfortable alternative to the advertised overtly sexy bras and thongs from Victoria's Secret (although the brand does offer a line of cotton lingerie). And as it stands, women have been abandoning sexy underwear for more comfortable undergarments lately. 


miranda kerr behati prinsloo victoria's secret


Victoria's Secret models Behati Prinsloo (L) and Miranda Kerr (R) pose together at the introduction of the new "Fabulous" by Victoria's Secret collection at the company's flagship store in New York.

"Most women just want something basic for every day that will make them look and feel good," lingerie designer Greer Simpkins told The New York Times.

While Victoria's Secret still controls a large portion of the lingerie market, it will need to shift its marketing strategy to keep up with its customers.

"Victoria's Secret needs to stop hiding behind dazzle and dated '70s concepts such as 'Angels" and the 'Fantasy Bra,' and start having a real conversation with women," Sehdev said to Business Insider this past spring.