Victoria’s Secret PINK and Its Ethics Challenge

In a recent talk with a lady who has been in the Marketing business for over two decades, I asked her what she thinks about ethics and how she, as a markete1r, would react when positioned in dilemmas. I simply burst into laughter upon hearing her answer. She said, “Well, as marketing people, we are able to package a box of crap nicely and sell it by convincing people that it is delicious.” “But,” she continued, “being able to do something does not always mean that we should do something. We carefully pick, phrase and send the message to make sure it is done in the most persuasive way. But there’s a fine line between what’s profitable and what’s unethical. And that fine line is authenticity, integrity and conscience.”

As our group was searching for a solid project topic, I stumbled upon a case that would further shed light on the discussion we had last Tuesday. Victoria’s Secret PINK, the youthful line of the famous lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret, had to face severe challenge from outraged parents. Earlier this year, the brand launched a Spring Break themed campaign with the slogan “Bright Young Things”, which upset parents of teenage girls. Parents raised an outcry against the brand as they consider such campaign, which featured underwear printed with flirty phrases such as “call me” and “feeling lucky”, as sexualizing young girls. Parents blogged about it, and Victoria’s Secret Facebook page was flooded by angry comments. Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time that PINK had to deal with backlash over their ads and campaigns.2PINK claims its target audience is college-aged young women, not tweens or teens. However, it contradicts with what Stuart Burgdoerfer, chief financial officer of Victoria’s Secret, said at a conference—“When somebody’s 15- or 16-years-old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink.”  So what really went wrong? Do PINK intentionally target teenagers while stating they don’t?3 Are parents so conservative and protective that they overreact whenever it comes to the topic of sexuality? Who contributed the most to the general perception of over sexuality in today’s society? Is it companies like Victoria’s Secret, or the media?


I don’t have definitive answers to any of the questions above. The only thing I’m certain is that if I was a parent, I would probably also be disturbed, as thinking about how to look sexier and how to attract boys is not typical 13-year old business after all. At this point, I would rather consider the incident as a poorly carried out campaign than a well-established brand cheating about their real target audience, because as a consumer, all we want is being able to trust.


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2 Responses to Victoria’s Secret PINK and Its Ethics Challenge

  1. fennihua says:

    I kinda think it’s Pink’s idea to target college students, but their secondary target might be high school students. As such a big chained company, I think they must have invested a huge amount of time on research and they must know the mind set of younger girls want to be older and have a sexy appeal. Hence, I think the company is definitely aware of the situation. In my opinion and based on the sales performance, it seems that the tactic is actually very effective, despite the fact that many parents are offended. After all, they are not the target audience.

    These are my thoughts. What do you think?

    • achurchm says:

      I agree that Pink’s main target is college students and their secondary target is high school students. After all, in just a few years those high school students will become college students. I believe they target them as well in order for them to make purchases down the road. Duhigg’s article from this week’s reading presents the issue of Target tracking pregnant women within their second trimester and giving coupons based upon what they need. They do this so that once they have the baby, they will turn to Target for all their shopping needs. In a way, Victoria’s Secret does this with high school students. If they start targeting them right before they head off to college, then they have capture them for life (Pink while in college, VS after college). In a way, this is actually very smart, but it presents the ethics issue of targeting younger women with sex appeal.