2 lessons for marketers from Victoria’s Secret’s new campaign featuring a model with Down syndrome

This week, Victoria’s Secret unveiled its new Love Cloud collection, featuring bras and underwear designed for comfort, function and sensuality for women of all shapes and sizes.

In addition to making the product more accessible to a wider range of women, Victoria’s Secret also forged ahead from an inclusion perspective when it came to promoting the collection. One of their models is Sofia Jirau, a Latina with Down syndrome.

They also featured Miriam Blanco, a disabled actress and model (she’s often in a wheelchair, but is featured on crutches in the campaign), Victoria Sampaio, the brand’s first openly transgender model, Cello Miles, a new firefighter Perce Tribe-Wildland, and even accessories designer Sylvia Buckler, who holds her pregnant belly in the footage. Over the past few years, they’ve recruited new talent into leadership positions, retired their “Angel” styles, expanded their size range, and launched The VS Collective, a diverse group of ambassadors to help them engage and support women with a more inclusive vision.

Here’s what you can learn from their efforts with their latest campaign.

It’s not about knowing where to start. “Love Cloud is a major moment in the evolution of the brand,” says Raul Martinez, chief creative director at Victoria’s Secret. “From the cast of incredible women who bring the collection to life, to the incredible inclusive spirit on set, this campaign is an important part of the new Victoria’s Secret normal we are creating.”

Martinez’s focus on the new normal makes it clear that the brand is looking to the future and establishing a new way of operating that is committed to including more people in its products, images and messages.

Your inclusive marketing track record becomes less important when consumers are able to see a clear and consistent shift in your efforts to make them feel like they belong.

Representation and inclusion should feel natural. Although Victoria’s Secret has come a long way in its efforts to transform itself into an inclusive brand, it still has work to do.

It’s laudable to feature so many role models from underrepresented and underserved communities, but including so many in one campaign feels a bit like forced inclusion. It doesn’t seem natural.

It’s a mistake many brands make as they strive to be more inclusive in their marketing. It feels like they are trying too hard, rather than operating in an authentic way.

In the 2021 State of Representation in Marketing study I conducted, respondents talked about their desire for brands to be more authentic, while also providing insight into when representation efforts don’t feel not that way. Here are some of their comments:

“Sometimes focusing too much on the representation makes it feel inauthentic.”

“That it’s important not to push stereotypes, but also not to look like the United Nations – it’s good to show communities that don’t represent everyone.”

“That there is an authentic way and an inauthentic way to have diverse representation. Brands need to take the time to learn the difference.

Truly inclusive brands are inclusive in everything they do. As such, it’s less about having a campaign filled with underrepresented and underserved people, or about drawing attention to all the differences between the people you feature. Instead, consumers should watch you on an ongoing basis, featuring people from diverse backgrounds in meaningful ways.

When you take the latter approach, the communities you intend to relate to will see themselves and/or who they aspire to be reflected in the visual imagery you put forward. Not in a way that feels like you’re ticking an opt-in box, but in a way that makes them feel like you see them and belong to you.

David’s Bridal is an inclusive brand that does a fantastic job of including a wide range of consumers who have the problem they are solving. As a result, one in three brides in the United States receive a wedding dress from the retailer. David’s Bridal includes women of all shapes and sizes, races, ethnicities, abilities, sexual orientations, ages, and more. Customer stories from a multitude of backgrounds are shared on both their website and social media. Their efforts don’t feel forced, as it’s a steady stream of people from diverse communities feeling seen, rather than a one-shot push for inclusion.

Bottom line. Your brand doesn’t need to vomit inclusion on your customers to feel like it’s demonstrating that you’re an inclusive brand. Gaining the attention, trust and loyalty of people who are part of communities you have not served well in the past will be accompanied by genuine and consistent actions taken daily.

About Carl Schroeder

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