What Happened: Lingerie powerhouse Victoria’s Secret has announced a new trio of “brand friends” in China. There’s idol Zhao Xiaotang, with four million Weibo followers, the fashion photographer Chen Man, who has amassed 10 million fans, and finally the former celebrity agent and body diversity champion, Yang Tianzhen. Following a controversial show in 2016, and years of declining sales in China, Victoria’s Secret undertook a much needed rebrand in 2020. The hiring of A-list actors Zhou Dongyu and Yang Mi as part of this strategy was credited with the start of an uptick on the mainland.
The Jing Take: In recent years, Victoria’s Secret’s global image has looked dramatically out of touch with a changing society. This hasn’t been helped by the uncovering of an internal toxic culture built on bullying and harassment, underpinned by tone deaf interviews. But following a company reshuffle, it has been working to address these issues. Recent financial reports show that it has undergone an unusual surge in demand in recent quarters — despite the announcement of a slew of store closures in 2020.
In China, the hiring of Yang Tianzhen, who runs a plus-size fashion line and is much loved among fans, further plays into this progressive shake up. As well as beautiful, she is clever, articulate, and deserves to be on this side of the lens (rather than working behind it). However, this move is very much in keeping with Western brands selling strategies based on so-called inclusivity which taps consumer sentiment to generate profit. And, while this could be read as a positive move, some will see it as an attempt to crib local names. Intimates’ competitor Neiwai, for one, but this has built its body positive messaging from the ground up.
So far, this ploy has not played out as well as they might have hoped. Unlike Neiwai, Victoria’s Secret’s has a long history of glamorous supermodel perfection, therefore this choice is seen as inauthentic for the Chinese consumer and has left many citizens bewildered. Global brands need a localized approach in China, but one that resonates convincingly with the company. “Stay true to yourself, you are unique,” said the official Weibo post on Yang’s announcement. Advice it needs to heed itself.
The Jing Take reports on a piece of the leading news and presents our editorial team’s analysis of the key implications for the luxury industry. In the recurring column, we analyze everything from product drops and mergers to heated debate sprouting on Chinese social media.