Victoria’s Secret Campaign Stirs Up Controversy

The lingerie retailer is in heat over “Bright Young Things,” a spring break-themed tag line for its Pink brand aimed at targeting 15- to 22-year-olds.

A page from the Victoria's Secret Web site.

Victoria’s Secret has done it again — and it’s turning into a “perfect storm.”

This story first appeared in the March 28, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

That’s how a spokeswoman for the company described the current imbroglio the lingerie retailer is in over “Bright Young Things,” a spring break-themed tag line for Pink, a brand that was soft-launched in 2002 with the aim of targeting 15- to 22-year-olds.

What’s causing the controversy are the suggestive sayings strewn across the front and back of thongs and bikinis such as “Call Me,” “Wild” and “Feeling Lucky.”

In less than a year, the retail specialist has managed to offend Asian-American groups with its “Sexy Little Geisha” look in September, and Native American groups with a Native American costume that sparked criticism in November. Animal rights activists protested a pair of snake eyes from a taxidermist — which Victoria’s Secret officials said weren’t real — used on a Snake Charmer costume in 2012 in the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion extravaganza.

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Now the brand is facing outrage from another facet of society: parents, who believe Victoria’s Secret is targeting teens and tweens.

Victoria’s Secret, which is owned by Limited Brands Inc., denies it is marketing its Pink products to young girls.

The company issued a statement saying, “Victoria’s Secret Pink is a brand for college-age women. Despite rumors, we have no plans to introduce a collection for younger women. “Bright Young Things” was a slogan used in conjunction with the college spring break tradition.”

A spokeswoman for Victoria’s Secret who did not want to be named described the anger against the provocative panty line on the Internet — particularly among mommy bloggers — as “confusing.”

“It’s become the perfect storm.…It’s not true.…We are not developing a new product line for younger [teen and tween] women. We have always been focused on college-age women with campus reps that rep the Pink brand, and we have our college licensing program,” said the spokeswoman.

Further explaining that the racy undies were part of an overall Pink collection for spring that was marketed as “Bright Young Things,” the spokeswoman said the panties have been top-selling items.

“There never was product that was called ‘Bright Young Things,’ no product line was called that. It [the undies] was just part of a normal Pink product line. I’m not sure why people thought that it was something else.…We have different [in-store] floor sets about every four weeks.…The timing is confusing.…On Monday the floor set was Spring Break, and on Tuesday it was changed to a summer floor set,” explained the spokeswoman. “We only have 150 pairs of the ‘Call Me’ thongs left.”

The parental outcry on the Web began Monday and has become so vehement that a “Victoria’s Secret: Pull Bright Young Things” petition has gone up on Change.org. As of late afternoon Wednesday, the petition had more than 4,300 signatures. Numerous parents also took to the Victoria’s Secret Facebook page to complain, accusing the lingerie giant of “sexualizing our daughters.”

The sexualization of girls is no new topic.

In June 2010, WWD featured a story titled “Does Sex Sell?” which explored the history of the sexualization of teens and tweens in advertising, pop culture and the entertainment industry. Three decades ago, Calvin Klein triggered debate — and a publicity bonanza — when 15-year-old Brooke Shields purred, “You want to know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing.”

These days that landmark television commercial, which CBS and NBC dropped because of its sexual overtones, seems downright quaint.

So, how did the current controversy of scandalous undies for underage girls suddenly become a cause célèbre?

“Maybe it’s because of social media? There was a woman, a mommy blogger, who recently posted something to the effect of ‘When my eight-year-old daughter no longer wants cartoon characters on her panties, I’ll take her to Pink.’”

“She was attacked online,” the spokeswoman said.