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 marketer, 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.PINK 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? 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.