Victoria’s Secret, the longtime queen of the intimate apparel space, has some competition: a handful of emerging lingerie brands that promote body positivity have harnessed social video to disrupt the $13.1 billion U.S. women’s intimates market.
These newer intimate apparel companies are mobilizing social video to redefine sexiness and shatter industry barriers. Their message: goodbye airbrushed fantasy, hello curves and stretch marks.
In this three-part blog series, we’ll explore how up-and-coming women’s lingerie brands are gaining competitive advantages by finding innovative ways to reach audiences. We’ll cover:
- The who’s who amongst today’s leading lingerie market disruptors
- Keeping sexy real: who’s winning in the lingerie messaging race?
- How the new top lingerie brands are differentiating themselves by partnering with niche creators to build out large content networks across platforms
- What do women want? Using Tubular’s data to uncover the next big lingerie trends
Let’s dive in!
Top Lingerie Brands Get Intimate with Women on Social Video
In the highly competitive apparel market, forward-thinking intimates companies are quickly becoming the best lingerie brands.
Consider these rising stars in the industry, which might look different on paper but have the same goal of disrupting the industry’s historically limited perspective on female beauty:
- American Eagle’s Aerie is a lingerie lifestyle retailer.
- ThirdLove, True&Co, and Adore Me are digitally native.
- Rihanna’s Savage X Fenty is celebrity-owned.
With lean staff and even leaner budgets, many of these brands have pivoted away from expensive ad campaigns and marquee lingerie events, like the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.
Instead, they are encouraging niche creators to experience the products for themselves and produce honest videos about it. The result is a social feed replete with authentic, first-hand testimonials.
This brand ambassador strategy appears to be working. In the past five years, up-and-coming lingerie brands have successfully chipped away at Victoria’s Secret’s market dominance.
Victoria’s Secret accounted for 31.7% of the lingerie market in 2013. That number dropped to 24% in 2018, according to data from a recent Coresight Research women’s underwear report.
In that same time, digitally native lingerie brands expanded from 28.1% to 36.2% of the market share, the report indicates.
Aspiration vs. Affirmation: The Messaging Disparity in Lingerie Videos
Today, two very different messages about beauty are competing in the lingerie videos space: aspiration versus affirmation.
In one ring are the Victoria’s Secret Angels. These models represent an aspiration, a fantastical beauty that women long to become. In the other ring are a number of lingerie disruptors who represent messages of affirmation, a real beauty that women already possess.
The Aspiration Side of Lingerie Brands: Victoria’s Secret
Victoria’s Secret has its roots in upscale aspiration and refinement. The store was reportedly named after the UK’s Queen Victoria and the initial bra offerings took their inspiration from the Victorian era and all its pageantries. Victoria’s secret, if you’re curious, is what’s hiding underneath the Queen’s clothing.
Today the brand’s social video feed is ripe with seductive montages, which has long been the marketing standard for lingerie. Since 1995, the company’s annual fashion show has championed this aesthetic, with impeccably thin models, angel’s wings, and diamond-emblazoned bras and panties.
The prevailing message since the 1980s: embrace your sexuality by investing in some glamorous lingerie so you can vicariously indulge in the fantasy.
Over the past six months, the company’s top video offerings hooked millions of views. Among its most popular offerings are videos of its models sharing beach-perfect bodies and must-have beach looks.
The Affirmation Side of Lingerie Companies: Disruptive and Emerging Brands
Victoria’s Secret’s sexually-charged beach-body videos contrast directly with the emerging lingerie brands’ beach content.
In a video posted by Aerie, British model Iskra Lawerence shares her secrets to getting the perfect bikini body. Answer: Put a bikini on your body.
Adore Me’s video on how to score the perfect beach body had a similar refrain. Answer: Have a body, check. Go to the beach, check.
The affirmation brands’ messaging: you’re sexy as you are. Buy comfortable lingerie that fits so well it feels like your second skin.
Aerie Promotes Diversity with Real Intimates
Since 2014, Aerie, American Eagle’s intimates branch, made a public commitment to stop retouching its ads.
In addition, the brand regularly features diverse models with different body shapes in its video campaigns, including women who have disabilities.
Aerie recruits #AerieREAL role models, a mix of celebrities, creators, and athletes like Iskra Lawrence and Samira Wiley to produce content in line with its inclusivity vision. The result is a video feed filled with authentic stories about the challenges of being a woman in the 21st century.
Consider this personal story from #AerieREAL role model Molly Burke who shared what it’s really like being a model, a video that earned a whopping 6.2x ER7 on YouTube.
(The ER7 metric measures a brand’s engagement rate benchmarked across all content. In this case, the video was 6.2x more engaging than average over a seven-day period.)
The retailer’s products match its messaging. As one of the top lingerie brands around, Aerie has seen commercial success with its second-skin style bras and its “Real Me” collection, which features diverse-nude skin tones.
All of these efforts have clearly accelerated the brand’s growth. Last year Aerie sales increased 38% and the retailer has seen 12 consecutive quarters of same-store growth, according to American Eagle earnings reports.
ThirdLove Brings Female Empowerment to the Next Level
Bespoke brand ThirdLove launched its first bra in 2013 with a clear mission in mind: help women find a bra that actually fits. Today the brand sells 78 bra sizes, which 78 women celebrated in its recent video campaign.
While Victoria’s Secret sells sexy designs (the type of bra a woman might want to lose her virginity in), ThirdLove’s bras are there for life, according to the company.
“Our reality is that women wear bras in real life as they go to work, breastfeed their children, play sports, care for ailing parents, and serve their country,” ThirdLove founder Heidi Zak said in a recent Fortune interview.
The company’s bras range from 30AA-48I. (Victoria’s Secret reportedly offers a smaller range from 30A—40DDD). Customers complete an online quiz to see what size best suits them, a determination based on data the company has reportedly gathered from millions of women.
The company’s growth trajectory is apparent. ThirdLove reported an estimated $160 million in 2018 sales and has a predicted overall worth of $750 million, according to a recent Forbes article.
When it comes to video messaging, ThirdLove is leading the charge as of late. Its recent content offerings have all the hallmarks of a lingerie brand that’s taking the body empowerment conversation to the next level, namely to address overall female empowerment.
And video audiences are clearly on board for this content evolution. In June 2019, ThirdLove organized a public panel in Los Angeles to address the gender pay gap.
The revealing conversation, which featured personal stories from entertainment reporter Catt Sadler and designer Justina Blakeney, earned 18K views in the first 24 hours (V1) on Instagram and 22.8k views as of June 24. Shot vertically, the recent recording is already one of the brand’s top videos by view ever (#4).
True&Co Is the “Netflix for Bras”
Launched in 2012, True&Co sells bras designed to be comfortable and essentially invisible under women’s clothes. In its early days, the digital-centric brand differentiated itself as an aggregator that sold bras from multiple companies.
Today it offers its own line of bras which customers size via an online quiz. Women are then asked to try the bras on in the comfort of their home. If the lingerie doesn’t fit, customers can return them for free, a strategy that’s earned the brand the moniker “Netflix for bras.”
In 2017, True&Co was acquired by PVH Corp., the same owner as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger. Perhaps most attractive to PVH, is the vast amounts of consumer data that True&Co has obtained from its online quizzes.
“We believe that we can leverage the analytics tools of this data-driven company, while leveraging PVH’s intimates category expertise.” Emanuel Chirico, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, PVH Corp. said in a statement following the acquisition.
When it comes to lingerie videos, True&Co’s strength is in its partnerships. The brand teams up with women who are actualizing the brand’s vision of sisterhood on the grassroots level.
Last February, the brand featured GRLSWIRL, an all-girls skating group in Venice, California. In a short video doc, the group’s founding skaters discussed how they band together for support in an otherwise male-dominated sport.
The ladies also starred in a video ad promoting True&Co’s new True Weekend Cotton Stretch collection, which earned 13.8K views on Instagram and is the brand’s second most-viewed video ever.
The brand’s video strategy is worth replicating in the lingerie space: while some brands partner with female influencers for their bodies, lingerie disruptors benefit from choosing partners based on what they embody.
Adore Me Succesfully Moves from Online to Retail
Adore Me is known for its wide array of petite to plus-sized offerings at lower costs. The brand’s most successful recent videos feature women with real curves showing off the latest products. The company also quizzes customers and uses an internal algorithm to select the ideal size.
But the brand’s bras cost, on average, half the price of its competitors, thanks to high-tech distribution strategies. Think: “fast fashion.”
Adore Me is the first digitally-native company to make the jump from digital to a retailer. Last May, the brand opened its fourth brick-and-mortar store, with plans to open 300 total during the next five years, Retail Dive reports.
Adore Me isn’t only chipping away at Victoria’s Secret’s retail dominance, it’s using social campaigns to directly challenge the market leader as one of the best lingerie brands around.
Last June, Adore Me launched its “Adore Me Adores You” campaign, which features transgender social-video influencer Gigi Gorgeous. The effort represents Adore Me’s push for inclusion in the lingerie industry.
This stands in contrast to Victoria Secret, which has chosen not to include transgender models in its brand messaging and annual fashion show.
“No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy,” Ed Razek, chief marketing officer of Victoria Secret’s parent company L Brands, explained in a Vogue interview. Razek later apologized. The brand, however, has not reversed its stance on the matter.
Savage X Fenty Makes Comfy the New Sexy
Launched in May 2018, Rihanna’s startup lingerie brand Savage X Fenty celebrates fearlessness and inclusivity by creating lingerie products for every skin tone and plus-sized body types. While the aforementioned bra brands boast about comfort, Savage X Fenty is the perfect cocktail of Victoria’s Secret’s sexy-fantasy appeal and body positivity.
Rihanna’s angle: let’s give women a sexy and whimsical feeling, but make sure they are comfortable at the same time. The star’s lines range from 32A to 44DD and boast names like “Black Widow,” “U Cute,” and “Damn.”
One of the brand’s top-performing videos shows a curvy woman proudly sitting on a couch in sexy lingerie with the caption “X stands for ALL.”
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Savage X Fenty has even launched its own fashion show, The World of Savage X Fenty, which it streamed live in September 2018, scoring 1.8M views and 39.1K engagements.
The spectacle featured a fairytale set graced by diverse body sizes and gender identities, plus a pregnant model Slick Woods who walked the runway in lace-cutout lingerie and stilettos (while in labor!).
Interested in more stories about brands having a voice? Check out how Nike’s “Dream Crazier” ad stole the show at this year’s Oscars… and beyond.