From Now – To Next

Victoria’s Secret’s CMO recently argued against presenting a more diverse representation of women in their shows. Crowd DNA Singapore’s Emma Gage counter-argues that projecting the ‘where next', rather than just the ‘right now’, is exactly what their powerful event platform should be for…

We love a debate about culture and brands, so thank you, Ed Razek, for giving us so much to work with. And in the same week we launch our How To Speak Woman work.  It’s like we planned it…

For those who missed the story, or who have never heard of Ed Razek: he’s the chief marketing officer of Victoria’s Secret and when asked in an interview with this week if they should be casting a more diverse representation of women in their shows (plus size, transsexual, older models… the list of possible ways they could be celebrating female diversity goes on) his response was a very clear: “No, I don’t think we should, because the show is a fantasy… we market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.”

Clearly this is a PR error and, of course, Victoria’s Secret have been quick to manage the fallout. But even without uttering those words, it’s evident what Victoria’s Secret’s stance is. Every brand touchpoint – from the show to the in-store experience; from the product to communications – is a celebration of a fairly outdated, and certainly one-dimensional, view of femininity. It’s a ‘fantasy’ told through the male experience. It’s why the brand is falling out of favour with young buyers and has been for a number of years.

But it does bring up an interesting point. The topic of gender is hot right now. Debate is loud and for a number of brands it can feel more minefield than opportunity. Consumers are calling for brands to have a stance on these kinds of issues and to walk the talk in every aspect of how they operate as a company – and when they get it wrong, people are quick to call them out.

At Crowd DNA we talk a lot about the power of cultural relevance. It’s the number one measure of brand health and while not every brand can be culturally iconic, a la Nike, Google or Gap, we believe that every one has the ability to be culturally relevant, whether selling shampoo, toilet cleaner or biscuits. 

So how do brands get this magic ingredient?  And how do they balance it with selling product in the short term?   

We believe it comes from working with a more nuanced understanding of the culture in which you operate and in which your consumer exists. It can be very tempting to play it safe and to generate lots of ever deeper insight around your core (often, mainstream) consumer. You understand how they buy, how they use your product, what they do in the supermarket, why they choose your brand rather than someone else’s. They take on the persona of ‘category buyer’, as though that’s literally all they are.

But how would her broader experiences as a woman inform her role as mother, wife, care-giver? How would understanding her as a three-dimensional woman change things and allow you to represent a world that’s relatable but aspirational, grounded but still progressive. This comes from also understanding her relationships; with her partner, her friends. The things she really cares about; her dreams, her ambitions and what empowerment looks like for her. And the things that limit or constrain her today.

It’s also about a culture tap; what does the trajectory of change look like? What’s influencing it? What are the more progressive narratives that are brewing (even if she’s not currently aware of them) to forecast what her world could look like in the future. The most powerful brands pitch themselves here, in the stretch and the aspiration, not in the quagmire of the reality.

It used to come down to a decision of whether you want to create a longer-term platform for activating your brand, or just sell product today. Now the two are one and the same. It’s not CSR; it’s about aligning your brand and organisation with positive change and having equity in cultural relevance.

We believe that brands have a responsibility to do better. To understand their core consumer, but also to understand this trajectory of change and to help them get there, be that practically or through inspiration. Whether you are Nike showing crowds of bold, empowered young women running through the streets of Mumbai (‘Da Da Ding’) as a celebration of how far women have come; or Ariel challenging men to ‘Share The Load’ in the household. This work captures a zeitgeist and presents a direction for a whole organisation to get behind. This is the kind of exciting work that gets called out for the right reasons.

So back to Ed. Yes Ed, we get it. Many of the everyday consumers buying your lacy undies are thin, ‘girly girls’ or at least they wish they looked like a Victoria’s Secret model. But what are you saying as a brand? How are you representing yourself? How are you part of an evolving conversation around issues affecting women? A brand with global reach, and a high-profile platform like the Victoria’s Secret show, absolutely has the opportunity to be culturally iconic and representative of the most progressive narratives surrounding the female experience today. Otherwise it just becomes an exceptionally expensive way to sell knickers and bras.

Come and talk to us Ed – we’d love to work with you and your brand.