What was Victoria’s Secret thinking when it decided to hire Justin Bieber to perform during this year’s Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show?
Even diehard fans of both the lingerie retailer and the teen popstar are scratching their heads over the wisdom (and ethics) of using an 18-year-old man-boy to help sell sexy underwear.
The Bieb’s massive international fanbase has broadened a lot since his early days as an adolescent heartthrob, but it still includes countless millions of pre-teen and even infant girls. Not exactly the demo you’re trying to hit when selling push-up bras and lacey thongs, unless you’re counting on the fans’ moms to be watching too.
Bieber, along with Rihanna, Bruno Mars and more than 30 willowy, waving supermodels, will hit the runway when the annual high-wattage spectacle airs on CBS-TV on Tuesday, Dec. 4.
At first glance, Bieber seems both inappropriate and a poor fit for the late-night VSFS audience, which tunes in mainly to ogle the parade of international beauties in opulent, revealing costumes. He’s clean-cut, ridiculously well-mannered and so far scandal-free. And his family-friendly public image is reflected in his choice of female companions: a Disney-bred girlfriend, a heroic single-parent mom, celebrity pals like Ellen and the Will Smith family, and an inspirational connection with 6-year-old cancer victim Avalanna (“Mrs. Bieber“) Routh, who got her dying wish to “marry” her idol earlier this year.
Now, overlay onto all of that the sexed-up razzle-dazzle that is the VS Fashion Show, which is obviously a better showcase for more explicitly sexualized celebs like Rihanna (or last year’s triple threat of Kanye, Nicki Minaj and Adam Levine).
As always, however, there’s some savvy calculation going on in the VS executive suite, and some strategic reasons why they picked The Bieb instead of other superstar acts like, say, Adele or Gaga or Béyonce that might be more suitable for the VS market.
First, because of his almost universal appeal to high school-age girls, Bieber will provide enormous exposure to Victoria’s Secret’s Pink brand, the rapidly growing collection of underwear, stuffed animals, perfume and logo-printed casual wear aimed at the pre-college crowd. (You can expect his performance to come immediately ahead of the Pink runway segment in this year’s show.)
Bieber also promotes a kind of ultra-generic feel-good message — evidenced by the curiously un-specific word “believe”, which is the name of his new album and world tour and which has turned his legions of fans into self-appointed “beliebers“. That kind of default optimism meshes perfectly with Victoria’s Secret marketing, which consistently emphasizes self-esteem and personal confidence. Don’t be surprised if a new “Believe” push-up bra reaches their shelves in time for Christmas.
But there’s more than just market synchronicity going on here. Victoria’s Secret is highly focused on brand development — expanding the global reach of a company that is already a household name in North America — and Bieber serves that corporate strategy exceedingly well.
In addition to his status as a performer, the young star is also the undisputed king of social media, literally whispering in the ears of young girls everywhere, every day. And hiring him gives Victoria’s Secret access to the single most effective marketing tool in the world today: Justin Bieber’s Twitter feed and other social media accounts.
With nearly 47 million Twitter followers, 29 million Facebook fans and over a billion YouTube views, Bieber’s reach into the hearts and minds of young consumers is unrivalled by any corporate brand, sports star or lifeform on the planet.
He’ll undoubtedly mention his TV appearance on his various social media accounts as the VSFS approaches — with an unsexy message like “Psyched to be taking my mom to #VSFashionShow tonight. Love all my fans so much. #believe” — and his performance will be copied and uploaded onto YouTube where it will be replayed tens of millions of times.
As the agency folks like to say, you can’t put a price on that kind of exposure. If the goal is to court a new generation of future customers and to beef up the company’s international recognition — which it is — Victoria’s Secret couldn’t find a more bankable set of coattails to ride.
Finally, it’s worth remembering that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show isn’t really just a product showcase anymore (you really don’t see much of the brand’s catalogue, anyway). It’s a television program, a prime-time network TV show, and as such it marches to the drumbeat of ratings and demographics and the precise demands of advertisers, affiliates and network executives.
Last year’s show, which reportedly cost more than $12-million to stage, demonstrated how carefully and expertly Victoria’s Secret and CBS zeroed in on those goals. It had a first-run audience of 10.4 million households, a 15% jump from the previous year. It was the single most-watched entertainment program on TV that week and placed first among key consumer age groups — 18-49, 25-54 and the splurge-spending 18-34 crowd. Among all groups it was the most-watched Victoria’s Secret show since the early 2000s and one of the most successful in the show’s 16-year history.
Now, add to those numbers the “shoulder” demographics that Bieber will pull in — every teenager in the world, anxious parents who might otherwise be in bed by 10 p.m., younger kids who know how to work a TiVo, and members of the Parents Television Council who will have the FCC on speed-dial. Suddenly the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show goes from a TV ratings hit to front page news.
All thanks to a sweet little guy with a girlish voice.
The only risk facing the spritely phenom: standing on that catwalk, in front of a live audience, surrounded by a flirty throng of the world’s most beautiful — and tallest! — women. Now THAT would make me throw up.