Victoria's Secret and the “Sexy Little Geisha” Lingerie

Victoria’s Secret and the “Sexy Little Geisha” Lingerie Set
1 The Abstract
Early in September, Victoria’s Secret received an incredible amount of backlash
from the release of an Asian-inspired lingerie set called, “Sexy Little Geisha,” as part of
their new “Go East” Collection. The sexy Teddy advertised as a “ticket to an Exotic
Adventure,” encouraged customers to indulge in touches of Eastern Delight and included
chopsticks and a fan. After its release on their website, the outfit caught the attention of
the mainstream news channels, online bloggers and offended the Asian-American
community. After increased widespread media attention over the “racist” lingerie,
Victoria’s Secret pulled the line from their website with no response without issuing a
statement or information regarding the controversy.
Overview of the Lingerie Industry………………………….…………………..4-5
Gender Roles……………………………………………………………………5-6
Victoria’s Secret………………………………………………………………...…6
4.1 History of Victoria’s Secret………………………………………....6-8
4.2 Victoria’s Secret Mission Statement and Values…………………...…8
4.3 Victoria’s Secret Influence and Impact…………………………....8-10
5. Past Victoria’s Secret Scandals……………………………………………………10
5.1 Kate Upton…………………………………………………………...10
5.2 Photoshopping and Airbrushing………………………………….10-11
5.3 Indian Headdress…………………………………………………11-12
6. The Scandal …………………………………………………………………...12-13
6.1 Victoria’s Secret Response…………………………………………..13
7. Why the “Sexy Little Geisha” is such a big deal………………………………13-15
8. The Aftermath……………………………………………………………………..16
9. Public Relations Campaign Recommendations…………………………………...16
9.1 Key Publics…………………………………………………………..17
9.2 Objective and Tactics…………………………………………….17-22
10. Evaluation Process……………………………………………………………22-24
11. Discussion Questions……………………………………………………...….24-25
12. References……………………………………………………………………26-29
13. Appendices ……………………………………………………….……………...30
A. Photoshopping and Airbrushing of Models………………………..…30
B. Indian Headdress from 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show……….31
C. “Sexy Little Geisha” Lingerie Set…………………………………….32
D. Racialicious Blog Article……………………………………………..33
E. The Huffington Post Article…………………………………………..34
F. ABC News Article………………………………………………….....35
G. Social Media Campaign……………………………………………....36
H. Press Release………………………………………………………….37
I. Website Text…………………………………………………………...38
3 1. Introduction
This case study describes and examines Victoria’s Secret response to the negative
attention over the “Sexy Little Geisha.” The study will present and discuss the
implications of the “offensive” lingerie set as well as how the situation could be handled
in a better manner and avoided for future product releases.
2. Overview of the Lingerie Industry
The lingerie market is a multi-billion dollar, global industry that is composed of
retailers that sell lingerie, nightgowns, shape-wear and other specialty items. Over the
past few decades, lingerie has blossomed from a necessary commodity to a high-fashion
market segment with a focus on style, evolving fashion trends, novelty and comfort. In
2011, the lingerie industry earned $29 billion globally, with the United States
representing 30% of this market and 20% of total apparel sales (Lepore, 2011).
Continually, bras represent the largest sales in women’s essentials. In 2011, 46% of all
lingerie sales were bras, followed by underwear at 25% and socks at 20% and finally
shape-wear and daywear with 10% (Badkar, 2012).
As the high-fashion market segment has developed, there has also been a major
permanent shift in where women shop for intimates. The once dominate, department store
outlets have lost their prominence to specialty retailers with more specific niches. The
largest retailer with the most market share is Victoria’s Secret accounting for $5.6 billion
dollars of the industry (Lepore, 2011). Followed companies like La Senza, La Perla, and
Hanes. Customers are also more likely to purchase from catalogues and online retailers
such as ("Underwear industry: Market research," 2012).
4 The growth of the industry and the emergence of lingerie in the public light has
received backlash over the years. As lingerie has become a more integrated part of
societies, criticisms have been made to illuminate the gender stereotyping problems this
creates as well as the unrealistic expectations it leads women to assume. Leading lingerie
companies are under constant scrutiny for the models they choose to highlight their
products in advertisements, catalogues and websites as they are often far from the size of
the average woman. This industry also receives criticisms for targeting advertisements to
a younger demographic in an attempt to sexualize the youth.
3. Gender Roles
The effects of media on women’s self-esteem, body dissatisfaction, body image
distortion and eating disorder symptoms have become an increasingly popular subject of
study. Models portrayed in the media are attractive, and have become increasingly
thinner in the last few decades. “Researches from various disciplines, however, are
concerned that repeated exposure to the idealized female form could distort our
perceptions of acceptable norms of thinness and attractiveness (Prabu, 3).”
The main problem is that “many regard the images portrayed in the media as if
they were real, even though such body types are not easily attainable in reality (Sohn,
20).” The level of beauty attained by these actors and models is characteristic of an
extremely small percentage of the population, and increasing the distance between
society’s self-perception and the ideal self (Sohn, 20). Unrealistic aspirations of young
females to attain this “ideal female body-type” has been linked to “numerous pathological
problems, including depression, obesity, dieting, and eating disorders (KnoblochWesterwick, 79).”
5 A recent report by the Women’s Media Center says, “In news and entertainment
media, women have frequently been underrepresented with minor changes in proportions
over the past decade. The female characters cast gender stereotypes and the likelihood of
women, to be hyper-sexualized in film is far more expected than men. American
teenagers spend an average of 10 hours and 45 minutes absorbing media in just one day.
The images women — particularly young girls — are shown inevitably affect the way
they are seen by others and themselves (S. Azad, 2012).”
Certainly as the leading lingerie company in the United States, Victoria’s secret
has received considerable attention by critics as doing just that. Victoria’s secret by
nature, features highly sexualized women in sexual lingerie sets on their website and in
their catalogues. Though the purpose of the company’s models is to sell their lingerie
products, the affects of those images are proving to be far more reaching on young
women’s self body image.
4.Victoria’s Secret
4.1 History of Victoria’s Secret
As the leading lingerie company in the world, Victoria’s Secret, came from very
humble beginnings. In 1977, Roy Raymond opened the first location in San Francisco
with a $40,000 bank loan, $40,000 in loans from relatives and his Stanford Graduate
School of Business degree. His hopes were to create a store where men and women no
longer had to feel uncomfortable when shopping for lingerie, “the décor of the stores
were Victorian designed with wood panel walls and friendly staff. Instead of bras and
panties being hung on sterile racks, they were paired together in all sizes and mounted on
frames (History of Victoria’s Secret).” In it’s first year alone, the company earned
6 $50,000 (Webley, 2012). Things continued to grow and Raymond opened up four
additional stores and created a 42-page mail-order catalogue. However, by 1982
Victoria’s Secret was on the verge of bankruptcy and Raymond called a business contact,
Leslie Wexner, to see if he wanted to buy the company.
Wexner was an entrepreneur who had been spending the past 10 years rebranding
his parents retail store, Leslies, to the Limited where he focused to sell women’s
sportswear separates. By 1969, he had 300 opened over 300 Limited stores and began
expanding by purchasing growing brands like Lane Bryant. Wexner agreed to purchase
the five locations and the catalogue for $1 million (Adler, 2010).
Although Wexner, had not a clue about lingerie, he believed it had the potential to
become a very successful business. He moved Victoria’s Secret to its headquarters in
Columbus and infused the brand with colors and textiles that related to the fashion
industry. Wexner focused on consistency of fit and costumer relationships fostering an
environment of customer loyalty.
Victoria’s Secret began expanding nationally around 1985, opening boudoir-style
stores in areas which it had catalogue costumers (“Limited brands timeline”, 2012).
During the 1990’s, Victoria’s Secret had become the largest American lingerie retailer
making over a billion dollars (History of Victoria’s Secret). They also began to use
Supermodels such as Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum and Karolina Kurkova amongst others,
deflecting from using celebrity models and endorsements. As the company continued to
grow it launched new product lines, like swimwear in 2000 and its Pink brand, targeted
towards college students, in 2002 (Merrick, 2008). Additionally in 2000, Victoria’s
Secret was recognized for their charitable contribution after they raised 3.5 million for the
7 Cinema against Aids Charity. (HISTORY OF) Throughout the years, Victoria’s Secret
has remained a highly adaptable company striving to the needs, wants and desires of its
4.2 Victoria’s Secret Mission Statement and Values
The Limited Brand is committed to building a family of the world’s best fashion
brands offering captivating customer experiences that drive long-term loyalty and deliver
sustained growth for shareholders. The Limited Brand Corporation is made up of a family
of household name brands—Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, La Senza and
Hendri Bendel. These brands are driven by the four core principles and beliefs that their
parent company was founded on. These principles are that the customer rules, each brand
strives hard to anticipate and fulfill their customer’s desires. Passion leads to success,
engaging emotionally, intellectually and spiritually into all aspects of work is the only
way to produce extraordinary results. Inclusion of all other’s thoughts, experiences, and
hopes and dreams encourage and promote diversity and leads to successful connections
with customers. Finally, doing right which revolves around doing what is right and
following the principle beliefs and all ethical standards when no one is watching (“About
us: Beliefs, 2012). Due to these values, Victoria’s Secret should focus on “doing right”
and making sure they are promoting diversity in the best light possible.
4.3 Victoria’s Secret Influence and Impact
Today, Victoria’s Secret is one of the most powerful brands worldwide. It is
known for it’s sexy and glamorous stores filled with intimate apparel, beauty products,
sleepwear, hosiery and more. As of January 28, 2012 there are 1,017 stores across the
United States and Canada bringing in net sales of $4,564,000,000 (“About: Victoria’s
8 secret, 2012). In addition to this, Victoria’s Secret Direct, which consists of Victoria’s
Secret Catalogue and, reaches 390 million customers each year
grossing net sales of 1,557,000,000 (“About: Victoria’s secret, 2012). Victoria’s Secret
not only has a huge influence over the lingerie industry, but asserts a certain control over
the fashion industry as well.
The company targets the middle class of America and prides themselves on
Customer Service. They believe in trying to upsell the customer by offering frequent
attention along with the Victoria’s Secret Credit Card, providing customers with
additional discounts and coupons on merchandise (History of Victoria’s Secret).
With the creation of the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show in 1995, Victoria’s Secret
aimed to stand out as the most influential industry leader. Although the initial show was
just a preview of the upcoming lingerie line, the show has evolved into a pop culture
phenomenon. This started in 2001, when the fashion show was initially broadcast on
network television and drew in 12.3 million viewers (Jannarone, 2012). Though the
Federal Communications Commission receives complaints about the show every year,
the show continues to be aired on television. Today the show is a lavish event with
elaborate and expensive lingerie, live music performances, intense lightening and a set
design according to the designative theme. As the show has grown it has attracted many
celebrities and entertainers to its audience. The show is Victoria’s Secret’s largest
marketing event throughout the year and is rumored to have a budget of $12 million
dollars but has been reported to be worth $5 billion in sales for the company (cite).
According to Pampered Passions Fine Lingerie, “Victoria's Secret has helped,
perhaps more than any other brand, attract attention to the lingerie industry. Their
9 advertising campaigns, including the Victoria's Secret Catalog and Victoria's Secret
Fashion Show are visually appealing and controversial. The attention received by
Victoria's Secret for their aggressive advertising campaigns has generated priceless wordof-mouth and media bytes to further enhance the Victoria's Secret brand (Victoria’s
Secret, A Brief History).”
5. Past Victoria’s Secret Controversies
Victoria’s Secret is no stranger to controversy. As a brand, who by nature, features
risky lingerie, it comes to no surprise Victoria’s Secret is consistently under criticism for
crossing boundaries.
5.1 Dissing Kate Upton “Unworthy” of being a Victoria’s Secret Angel
When the creative mind behind the past Victoria’s Secret fashion shows, Sophia
Neophitou, made a statement to The New York Times, regarding the use of Sports
Illustrated cover model, Kate Upton, as a Victoria’s Secret Angel, the media went crazy.
Neophitou said, “[Kate Upton is] like a footballer’s wife with the too-blond hair and that
kind of face that anyone with enough money can go out and buy (A. Klasser, 2012).”
This statement makes Victoria’s Secret look “harsh” and very critical of women’s
appearance, which just perpetuates this idea that women are not worthy unless they are
similar to Victoria’s Secret models.
5.2 Photo shopping and Airbrushing of Models (See Appendix A)
Although airbrushing and Photoshopping of retail images is a commonplace in
today’s society, Victoria’s Secret has the tendency to be criticized for taking things a
“step too far.”
10 Earlier during summer 2012, the brand posted photos of very thin thighs of a model
posing for one of the brand’s bikini bottoms. According to The Daily Beast, “Customers
were quick to notice the blunder, posting more than 2,000 comments about the image on
Victoria’s Secret’s site. It was just one of over a dozen instances in which VS has been
called out on its Photoshopping B.S. The company has accidentally disconnected legs
from hips, bulked up muscles, lengthened legs, and completely disproportioned just about
every body part, all with the click of a mouse (A. Klasser, 2012).”
5.3 2012 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show – Indian Headdress (See Appendix B)
Victoria’s Secret model Karlie Kloss walked the runway wearing Native American style costume during the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show airing on December 4th 2012 on
CBS. The brand decided to pull the portion of the show from broadcast as it offended the
Native American culture by putting an Indian feather headdress on the leopard-print
lingerie model. Feather headdresses or war bonnets are a symbol of bravery and usually
worn by Indian chefs and honored warriors, but not women. Those who criticized the use
of the headdress claimed the company disrespected the Native American history and
Victoria’s Secret issued a statement on their Facebook page saying, "We are sorry
that the Native American headdress replica used in our recent fashion show has upset
individuals…we sincerely apologize as we absolutely had no intention to offend anyone.
Out of respect, we will not be including the outfit in any broadcast, marketing materials
nor in any other way (Victoria’s Secret to Cut Indian Costume, 2012).” Model Karlie
Kloss also expressed her regret, tweeting, "I am deeply sorry if what I wore during the
11 VS show offended anyone. I support VS's decision to remove the outfit from the
broadcast (Victoria’s Secret to Cut Indian Costume, 2012)."
6. The Scandal
In early September 2012, Victoria’s Secret launched their new collection titled,
“Go East.” The collection included an Asian-inspired lingerie set called, “Sexy Little
Geisha” (See Appendix C). The $98 set included an Asian floral detailed teddy,
removable obi belt, a matching fan, and chopsticks. The “Sexy Little Geisha” was
advertised as a “ticket to an exotic adventure” and encouraged customers to “indulge in
touches of “Eastern Delight.” After its release on the Victoria’s Secret Website, the
“Sexy Little Geisha” caught the attention of Racilicious Blog writer, Nina Jacinto.
On September 6, 2012, Jacinto criticized Victoria’s Secret and their “Sexy Little
Geisha” lingerie set on the Racialicious Blog; a blog about the intersection of race and
pop culture (See Appendix D). Jacinto condemned the brand for stereotyping Asians as a
Western sexual fantasy claiming, “It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely
stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and nonthreatening,
mysterious East” (N. Jacinto, 2012).
Jacinto’s blog post is considered the initial step in the widely criticized scandal
and jump-start to the negative attention surrounding Victoria’s Secret’s “Sexy Little
Geisha.” After the Racialicious Blog post, many other online bloggers such as The
Frisky, The Huffington Post, Vogue, The Daily Beast, and GlobalPost featured a story
regarding the release of the “offensive Sexy Little Geisha.” (See Appendices E & F for
more stories).
12 By the end of September, the “Sexy Little Geisha” set had been a topic of
discussion on most mainstream media stations and publications across the United States
such as ABC News, Fox News, the Today Show, E News and many others. All of the
news surrounding the lingerie set advertised the piece as highly offensive to the AsianAmerican culture.
6.1 Victoria’s Secret Response
Due to the widespread negative media attention, Victoria’s Secret pulled the
“Sexy Little Geisha” set along with the entire “Go East Collection.” The collection is no
longer available for purchase or viewing on Victoria’s Secret’s website. The collection
was removed from sale without a statement or acknowledgement to the public, causing a
lack of information amongst the public and speculations to arise over the mysterious pull.
According to Shine by Yahoo, when feminist website Bust reporter went to check
out the teddy described in Jacinto’s story, it had disappeared from the website.
“According to Bust, A Victoria’s Secret representative suggested the teddy had simply
‘sold out.’” Shine by Yahoo also stated that when major news outlets called Victoria’s
Secret for a comment to the press, their requests were declined (P. Weiss, 2012).
The company has yet to issue a statement or confirmed its decision to remove the
7. Why is the “Sexy Little Geisha” such a big deal?
Racism has plagued numerous cultures around the world. Most companies try to
avoid making racist remarks, or offending a culture by their products. Although generally
unintended, companies make racist “suggestions” frequently, creating negative attention
in the press and media.
13 As Bust magazine’s blog noted, there is nothing “necessarily wrong with a
clothing company, or a lingerie company, incorporating some pretty Japanese-style
flowers. That in itself isn’t racism, it’s globalization.” But [the “Sexy Little Geisha”] isn’t
just a pretty Asian-inspired pattern. It’s an entire outfit — a sex costume, really — based
on the accouterments of the Japanese geisha to make your lingerie “exotic” and signify
the sexual submission and exploitation of Asian women (L. Intern, 2012).
US blog Racialicious’ guest contributor Nina Jacinto stated, “When someone
creates a collection like [Victoria’s Secret’s “Sexy Little Geisha”], making inauthentic
references to ‘Eastern culture’ with hints of red or a fan accessory or floral designs, it
reinforces a narrative that says all Asian cultures and their women are exotic, far away
but easy to access. (N. Jacinto, 2012)” There has been a long-standing tradition to
represent Asian women as hyper-sexualized objects of fantasy and as submissive
individuals who exist to serve male fantasies. Due to this sexual stereotype, it is not
surprising the Asian-American community is deeply offended, especially considering
how their history has been stereotyped (N. Jacinto, 2012).
“Considering the complicated history of geishas, repurposing the geisha look for a
major corporation to sell as role-playing lingerie seems a bit tasteless” said Jessica
Wakeman of The Frisky Blog (J. Wakeman, 2012). There are obvious misconceptions,
fueled by the media’s tendency to broadcast them in such a way, of geishas being
prostitutes when in fact they we not.
Geishas are traditional Japanese female entertainers who act as hostesses and
whose skills include performing various Japanese arts such as classical music, dance, and
games. Geishas were trained in the art of communication to make guests feel at ease with
14 conversation while attending meals, banquets and other occasions (Geisha). “Geishas
have their roots in female entertainers such as the Saburuko of the seventh century and
the Shirabyoshi, who emerged around the earth 13th century…It was in the late 16th
century that the first walled-in pleasure quarters were built in Japan,” which became the
grounds for the misconception of prostitution (F. Staud, 2012).
Traditional Japan embraced sexual delights and husbands were not constrained to
be faithful to their wives. Men went to courtesans instead of their wives for sexual
enjoyment and romantic attachment. In the 16th century when “pleasure quarters” were
designated for classified and licensed “yujo, play women.” Outside of these quarters,
prostitution was considered illegal. “The highest yujo class was the "Oiran", a
combination of actress and prostitute. (F. Staud, 2012)” They performed erotic dances
and skits for clients, and these pleasure quarters quickly become popular entertainment
centers offering more than sex.
The term geisha, as the first entertainers, did not appear until the turn of the 18th
century. Prostitution was legal in Japan until 1958 and many occupying soldiers during
World War II used professional prostitutes who styled themselves as “geisha,” which is
another reason outsiders may be misinformed about geishas offering sex to customers.
The use of counterfeit geishas tarnished the meaning of the word in the eyes of many (F.
Staud, 2012).
Despite widespread belief to the contrary, being a geisha is considered a true
honor in Japanese cultures, so it is offensive for a corporation to stereotype a geisha as a
sexual fantasy on sale for consumers to purchase.
15 8. The Aftermath
The widespread attention from the media surrounding Victoria’s Secret’s “Sexy
Little Geisha” controversy demonstrated apparent flaws in the internal workings of the
company. The media and blogger’s criticisms highlighted significant problems that need
to be addressed within the company in order to avoid similar situations in the future and
remain a reputable brand. However, overall this controversy did not have an outstanding
impact on the company as a whole. Victoria’s Secret saw no drop in sales or stock prices
and this year’s fashion show viewings increased from last year.
One reason that this controversy may not have had dramatic implications is that
scandals within the industry are often unavoidable because of the nature of the business.
In addition to this, Victoria’s Secret will always receive criticisms and backlash from
certain publics regardless of what they are producing. This industry is driven by
consumers who remain “loyal” to the brands by continuing to purchase the company’s
products regardless of what is going on.
9. Public Relations Campaign Recommendations
Through thorough research of public relations management and the Victoria’s
Secret Corporation, we have developed recommendations for the organization moving
forward. For the following sections, suggestions are made in order to properly handle
Victoria’s Secret’s public relations blunder in the creation of the “Sexy Little Geisha”
lingerie set in the “Go East” collection. This includes identifying key publics, objectives,
tactics and strategies to implement that will prevent a similar crisis in the future.
9.1 Key Publics
16 With a brand as recognizable as Victoria’s Secret, any crisis will likely garner
media and public attention. This is why it is necessary for the organization to act
promptly in executing an effective public relations campaign that targets key stakeholders
within the organization. Stakeholders, or publics, are defined as the different groups of
people who take an interest in the organization (Swan, 2010). The first step in the
intended campaign involves identifying the key publics for the Victoria’s Secret
organization. Without proper identification of publics, the campaign will lack
effectiveness in achieving any intended goals. As a global company, Victoria’s Secret has
a diverse group of stakeholders that each has different needs from the organization in
response to the “Sexy Little Geisha” crisis and subsequent public relations campaign. The
targeted stakeholders include employees, customers, bloggers and online media, social
media, and mainstream news media. The strategies used to identify and successfully
reach these publics through the campaign will be explained in the succeeding sections.
9.2 Objectives and Tactics
The following section of this campaign will address our recommended objectives
for Victoria’s Secret and how we plan to execute these public relations strategies
following the removal of the “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie set from stores, catalogs, and
website. The overall campaign goal is to manage brand reputation with its publics and
rectify the missteps within the organization. Reputation can be defined as “an on-going
index of previous responses to situations, making the most immediate response strategy a
key element of that index…”(Payne, 2006). A good reputation involves factors such as:
quality products or services, recognition of a familiar logo built over the years, wellestablished CEO, stand-out advertising, and sponsorship of a high profile event
17 (Payne,2006). Victoria’s Secret is an established force in the lingerie and women’s wear
industry with impressive and effective advertising campaigns. The brand is synonymous
with risqué yet classy sex appeal; however, the current crisis can be classified as a
tactless attempt at exotic erotica.
Objective 1: To rebuild the organization’s reputation with key publics
through internal communication efforts and social media.
This objective focuses on acknowledging the crisis situation and issuing an
apology to the public. Our first tactic in order to execute this objective will be to send an
internal email to all employees from the chief executive officer. Employees are an
extremely valuable public and internal communication must be utilized to keep them
informed during any crisis or change (Swan, 2010). As a substantial corporation with
many departments and franchises, it is crucial to send an organization-wide email in order
to properly inform the employees as the primary public to become aware of the situation
and maintain positive internal relations.
Previous research has revealed that if an organization is dealing with a
preventable crisis, practitioners should employ accommodating strategies (Claeys &
Cauerghe, 2012). The following tactic in accomplishing this objective involves
implementing social media with an apology response strategy. Consumers increasingly
rely on Facebook groups as a trustworthy way to acquire information and opinions
regarding an organization, creating a place for consumer brand relationships. Victoria’s
Secret already actively uses Facebook to disseminate messages and generate interest in
the brand (Chu, 2011). Twitter and Facebook will be used to issue an apology to the
public for the creation and sale of the “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie set (See Appendix G).
18 By employing social media to communicate the apology, Victoria’s Secret can reach a
significant number of individuals at once due to their substantial following of 1.6 million
on Twitter and over 20 million “Likes” on Facebook (See Appendix H). In doing so,
Victoria’s Secret will take full responsibility for the crisis and ask stakeholders for
forgiveness of the mistake (Coombs, 2006).
Objective 2: To increase the organization’s favorable coverage in
uncontrolled media.
Practicing effective communication with the media is paramount in crisis
communication (Veil & Ojeda, 2010). Victoria’s Secret “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie
earned extensive media coverage and backlash due to the nature of the product as well as
the lack of response by the organization once criticism ensued. The campaign should be
directed heavily towards effective media relations including: being the first to address the
pull of the item, being available to the media during the handling of the crisis, and
establishing a spokesperson to deliver the central message of the public relations efforts.
The first tactic to accomplish this objective is to send at least one press release to
national and international media with the first 24 hours of the product removal (See
Appendix I). Instead of allowing the media to direct the outcome of the crisis by being
the first to acknowledge the removal of the “Sexy Little Geisha”, Victoria’s Secret must
send a press release in order to properly address the crisis and continue reputation
management. A separate press release will be tailored to external bloggers as that public
played a significant role in creating buzz and mainstream media coverage of the
controversy. An influential external blog is defined as any blog that initiates and/or
amplifies a crisis for an organization (Jin, 2011). By addressing this public separately and
19 acknowledging bloggers as a relevant producer of media, Victoria’s Secret can improve
the relationship and hopefully increase favorable coverage of the organization in the
The second tactic in this campaign will be the designated spokesperson, CEO Lori
Greenly, who will be available at a press conference within 48 hours as a prebuttal. The
organization will invite national media to hear Victoria’s Secret’s statement and directly
answer any questions that may arise to prevent additional speculation or criticism. This
portion of the campaign will utilize repentance as a rectifying behavior strategy in which
the organization will take responsibility for the crisis situation as well as discuss changes
to its practices to prevent a similar situation from occurring again (Swan, 2010).
Victoria’s Secret’s spokesperson will make the public aware of the new internal risk
assessment program being developed that will focus on product approval and guidelines
for acceptable themes for the creative design team. These internal developments will be
addressed in detail with the following objective.
Objective 3: To implement internal strategies to prevent future similar
While Victoria’s Secret may not have intended to offend, the crisis was
completely avoidable. Although apologizing and promising situations of this nature will
never happen again is a good initial step, the organization must further their efforts to the
public by setting setting standards in terms of what themes can be used for appropriate
lingerie in the future. This corrective action will enable the brand to not only achieve
reputation management, but also a risk assessment function that shows the crisis is being
taken seriously. Victoria’s Secret is not just trying to make it “go away” but rather insure
20 it will not occur again. The public relations team, with the help of the other management
positions in the organization, will work to create specific guidelines for lingerie design
themes, especially those themes that should be avoided at all cost. For example, the
following topics should be avoided for all lingerie and sleepwear product creation:
Any obvious cultural references (Asian, Native American, African
American, etc.)
Keep away from any stereotypically “submissive” and over –sexualized
career (maid, nurse, etc.)
Collection titles that involve any illusion to prostitution, escort services,
Additionally, through the approval process, these questions should be considered and
answered before a product can be approved:
Will this product garner any negatives feelings involving racism, gender
stereotyping etc.?
Can this product be sold internationally with no subsequent backlash?
Is this piece representative of Victoria’s Secret innovative and classy
brand image?
The following ideas can be implemented as “safe” suggestions for future lines and
Take inspiration from global cultures without turning the piece into a costume
(textures, patterns, prints, colors, etc.)
Use gender-neutral career pieces not limited to stereotypically female occupations
(fireman, police officer, doctor, military, etc).
21 •
Incorporate various time periods as “decade lingerie” from various global eras
(flapper, pin-ups, etc.)
Pull inspiration from every-day life including pop culture, seasons, nature.
Consider launching a line of products for the mature costumer demographic
including more conservative, flattering pieces while keeping the trademark sex
appeal. This could highlight everyday women as a sexual fantasy.
10. Evaluation Process
In order to examine the success of our public relations campaign we must
evaluate the effectiveness of our response strategies. The appraisal of each individual
objective will be determined by the results of the tactics executed.
The following will assess the first objective:
An internal survey will be distributed to all employees to quantify the
effectiveness of crisis communication in the organization. Using a Likert scale
for responses, (strongly disagree-strongly agree) the first question will ask,
“Did the e-mail adequately inform you of the crisis?” The second question
would ask, “Did Victoria’s Secret respond in an appropriate manner that
aligns with our company values and policies?”
All social media interactions on Victoria’s Secret twitter and Facebook
accounts will be monitored through environmental scanning. The public
relations team should focus on comments and conversations surrounding
Victoria’s Secret specific tweets and statuses regarding the controversy. In
addition, the public relations team should account for the number of
22 “followers” and “likes,” on each respective page, gained or lost during the
time of the crisis and the period immediately following.
The following will assess the second objective:
Media scanning will be utilized to assess what publications used the press
release in their coverage of the Victoria’s Secret controversy. Supplementary
media scanning will be employed to see if the targeted external blogs shared
our press release with their follows or reposted about the crisis on their blog
following the organization’s press release to the site.
The press conference will be assessed based on the number of media
representatives that attended and conduct media scanning following the press
conference to monitor the response and dissemination of Victoria’s Secret’s
The following will assess the third objective:
The organization will conduct an internal survey on the new risk assessment
program to see how effective the product approval process is so far. The
organization will accept any suggestions from employees who are partake in
the program (i.e. management, design and production team, public relations
After a new line has passed the guidelines set forth by the internal risk
assessment team program, a focus group will be conducted inviting several
different media outlets to provide feedback or criticisms prior to its release
(mainstream media, fashion media, bloggers). This will evaluate how well the
guidelines work to filter out any pieces that could be offensive and improve
23 the organization’s media relations. Participants will get a sneak peak at the
Victoria’s Secret product development process.
11. Discussion Questions
1. Do you think Victoria’s Secret is ethically responsible to society regarding
perceptions of the lingerie industry?
2. What else do you think Victoria’s Secret could to further stray from gender
stereotyping, body image controversies, and cultural implications?
3. Does the campaign adequately address all key stakeholders?
4. What types of corporate social responsibility do you think Victoria’s Secret could
implement to improve reputation management (i.e. charities, community events)?
5. What other industries besides lingerie do you think are plagued with image
6. Do you believe its Victoria’s Secret’s responsibility to work toward alter in
media’s depiction of “beauty” with changes to models, advertisements, fashion
show etc., to depict a more realistic standard?
7. How else could social media be utilized in furthering an organization-public
relationship in times of crisis?
8. As a member of the public relations team, how would you shift the focus from the
crisis to the upcoming Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show?
9. What are some other ideas for safe, appropriate lingerie themes?
10. What are some other things that Victoria’s Secret should avoid in their products?
11. Do you think that it’s necessary for Victoria’s Secret to have their own company
values versus just utilizing The Limited Brands’ umbrella values?
24 12. Why do you think Victoria’s Secret endures numerous controversies but still
manages to be an immensely successful brand?
25 12. References
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Adler, C. (2010, June 09). Victoria's secret's secret. Retrieved from
Azad, S. (n.d.). Are women in the media only portrayed as sex icons? Statistics show a
massive gender imbalance across industries. Retrieved from:Retrieved from
Badkar, M. (2012, April 13). Citi: Big changes are coming to the women's underwear
market. Retrieved from
Chu, S. C. (2011). Viral advertising in social media: Participation in facebook groups and
responses among college-aged users. Journal of Interactive Advertising , 20-43.
Claeys, A. S., & Cauberghe, V. (2011). Crisis response and crisis timing strategies, two
sides of the same coin. Public Relations Review , 83-88.
Coombs, W. T. (2006). The protective powers of crisis response strategies: Managing
reputational assets during a crisis. Journal of Promotion Management , 241-257.
26 Geisha (geiko). (2012, December 3). Retrieved from: http://www.japan
History of victoria's secret. (2011, September 15). Retrieved from:
Jacinto, N. (2012, September 6). Victoria's secret does it again: When racism meets
fashion. Retrieved from:
Jannarone, J. (2012, December 10). The victoria's secret fashion show gives sex a
soundtrack. Retrieved from
Klassen, A. (2012, September 26). 'Sexy little geisha' & more victoria's secret
controversies. Retrieved from:
victoria-s-secretKnobloch-Westerwick, Silvia, and Josselyn Crane. "A Losing Battle: Effects Of
Prolonged Exposure To Thin-Ideal Images On Dieting And Body Satisfaction."
Communication Research 39.1 (2012): 79-102. Communication & Mass Media
Complete. Web. 4 Oct. 2012.
Intern, L. (2012, September 13). A racist little outfit: Victoria’s secret’s “sexy little
geisha” lingerie. Retrieved from: little-outfit
27 Lepore, M. (2011, January 24). Everything you need to know about the red-hot, growing
lingerie industry. Retrieved from
Limited brands timeline. (2012). Retrieved from
Lutz, A. (2012, November 6). 18 years in the evolution of the victoria's secret fashion
show. Retrieved from
Merrick, A. (2008, February 29). Apparently, you can be too sexy. Retrieved from
Payne, L. (2006). Synthesizing crisis communication and reputation management: an
experimental examination of memory. Quanitative Research , 161-180.
Prabu, David, Liu Kaiya, and Juliann Cortese. "Effect Of Thin Vs. Plus-Size Models: A
Comparison Of Body Image Ideals By Gender." Conference Papers -International Communication Association (2003): 1-40. Communication & Mass
Media Complete. Web. 4 Oct. 2012.
Sohn, Steve H. "Body Image: Impacts Of Media Channels On Men's And Women's
Social Comparison Process, And Testing Of Involvement Measurement." Atlantic
Journal Of Communication 17.1 (2009): 19-35. Communication & Mass Media
Complete. Web. 4 Oct. 2012.
Staud, F. (n.d.). Japan zone: Geisha. Retrieved from: http://www.japan
Swann, P. (2010). Cases in Public Relations. New York: Routledge.
28 Underwear industry: Market research reports, statistics and analysis. (2012, September).
Retrieved from
Veil, S., & Ojecda, F. (2010). Establishing media partnerships in crisis response
Communication Studies , 412-429.
Victoria's secret, a brief history. (n.d.). Retrieved from
Victoria’s secret to cut indian costume from broadcast. (2012, November 13).
Retrieved from: Wakeman, J. (2012, September 24). Victoria's secret offends with "sexy little geisha"
outfit. Retrieved from:
Webley, K. (2012, April 02). All-time 100 fashion icons: Roy raymond. Retrieved from,2880
Weiss, P. (2012, September 25). Victoria’s secret geisha lingerie sparks controversy:
How one blogger took on a brand. Retrieved from:
controversy-one-blogger-201500394.html 29 13.Appendices
Appendix A
Photoshopping and Airbrushing of Models
30 Appendix B
Indian Headdress from Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show 2012
31 Appendix C
“Sexy Little Geisha” Lingerie Set
32 Appendix D
Racialicious Blog Article
Victoria’s Secret Does it Again: When Racism Meets Fashion
By Guest Contributor Nina Jacinto
In case you missed it, Victoria’s Secret recently launched a new lingerie collection. Entitled “Go
East,” it’s the kind of overt racism masked behind claims of inspired fashion and exploring sexual
fantasy that makes my skin crawl.
From the website: “Your ticket to an exotic adventure: a sexy mesh teddy with flirty cutouts and
Eastern-inspired florals. Sexy little fantasies, there’s one for every sexy you.” The collection
varies in its level of exoticism. The “Sexy Little Geisha” is a perversion of its reference, featuring
a sultry white model donned in lingerie, chopsticks in her hair, fan in her hand. Other items in the
collection include red sleepwear and nightgowns with cherry blossoms. I might have glossed over
some of these pieces entirely–except the catalog descriptions had me reeling. “Indulge in touches
of Eastern delight.” Translation: “Buying these clothes can help you experience the Exotic East
and all the sexual fantasies that come along with it, without all the messy racial politics!”
When someone creates a collection like this, making inauthentic references to “Eastern culture”
(whatever that means) with hints of red or a fan accessory or floral designs, it reinforces a
narrative that says that all Asian cultures–and their women–are exotic, far away but easy to
access. It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely stripped of its realness in order to
fulfill our fantasies of a safe and non-threatening, mysterious East.
But when a company takes it one step further by developing a story about how the clothes can
offer a sort of escape using explicit sexualized and exploitive language, it takes the whole thing to
another level. It’s a troubling attempt to sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a
culture and opt instead for racialized fetishizing against Asian women.
There’s a long-standing trend to represent Asian women as hypersexualized objects of fantasy, so
it’s telling that none of the models wearing the “Go East” collection appear to be Asian. Perhaps
this is a way for the company to distance itself from accusations of racism, given the backlash of
previous campaigns such as “Wild Thing,” a fashion show segment in which black models wore
“tribal” body paint and African-themed wraps. In the case of “Go East,” Victoria’s Secret is
avoiding a stereotype by removing Asian women from the picture while still capitalizing on it.
The lack of Asian women here simply exposes the deep-rooted nature of the Orientalist narrative,
one that trades real humanness for access to culture. Besides, it can only feel sexy and exotic if
it’s on an “American” body–without the feeling of accessing something foreign or forbidden,
there can be no fantasy.
I’m not trying to deny that people have their own unique sexual desires and sources of pleasure.
But like all things, sex and sexuality don’t live in a bubble. They intersect with our historical and
cultural contexts. Donning a “sexy Geisha” outfit to get the ball rolling in the bedroom remains
offensive because it confirms a paradigm in which Asian people and their culture can be modified
and sexualized and appropriated for the benefit of the West. This particular kind of racism has
existed for a long time, and we’re far from moving beyond it.
33 Appendix E
The Huffington Post:
Victoria’s Secret ‘Sexy Little Geisha’ Outfit Sparks Backlash
Victoria's Secret's troubles are usually limited to Photoshop fails, of which they've
committed many. But the lingerie retailer has hit a snag of a different kind, offending
customers with a misguided new product: the "Sexy Little Geisha" outfit.
Part of Victoria's Secret "Go East" collection, the "Sexy Little Geisha" outfit consists of a
mesh teddy with "Eastern-inspired" floral print fabric on the bra cups and crotch, plus a
coordinating (and removable!) obi belt. The matching fan and chopsticks, which South
African model Candice Swanepoel sports in the product shot, are included. The entire
get-up, the website writes, is "your ticket to an exotic adventure."
The negative reactions began several weeks ago. On Racialicious, Nina Jacinto took
Victoria's Secret to task for essentializing Asian identity and reducing "Eastern" culture
to a stereotype of exotic sexuality. "It’s a narrative that says the culture can be completely
stripped of its realness in order to fulfill our fantasies of a safe and non-threatening,
mysterious East," she argues. Done at the corporate level, "it’s a troubling attempt to
sidestep authentic representation and humanization of a culture and opt instead for
racialized fetishizing against Asian women."
The Frisky concurred: "Considering the complicated history of geishas, repurposing the
[geisha] 'look' for a major corporation to sell as role-playing lingerie seems a bit
Victoria's Secret has responded to the protests, if only tacitly: type in the URL for the
Sexy Little Geisha product page and it redirects you to In fact all
the product pages for the "Go East" collection, including the Printed Chiffon Robe we
highlighted last month, now simply redirect to the Victoria's Secret homepage.
Removing the products will probably appease critics... as long as Victoria's Secret avoids
similar missteps. Otherwise they could be the next Urban Outfitters with a reputation for
offending various religious, racial and ethnic groups at every turn.
34 Appendix F
ABC News
Victoria’s Secret Under Fire for ‘Sexy Little Geisha’ Outfit
Victoria’s Secret sends models down the runway in angel wings and next-to-nothing
outfits, but it’s a “Sexy Little Geisha” outfit that has the nation’s most famous lingerie
company in hot water.
The Columbus, Ohio, company, famous for its annual televised Fashion Show, has
removed its entire “Go East” collection of Asian-inspired lingerie wear from its website
after feeling heat from bloggers for the “Sexy Little Geisha” it described on its website
as ”Your ticket to an exotic adventure.”
The $98 lingerie one-piece featured a “sexy mesh teddy with flirty cutouts and Easterninspired florals,” according to its description, which has since been removed, on its
website. The outfit also included a removable obi belt with a bow in back and came with
a matching fan and hair chopsticks.
The “Go East” collection drew criticism last month for an apparent Photoshop job done
on one of its models, and then the “Sexy Little Geisha” number was singled out this
month by bloggers who questioned the company’s taste.
“Considering the complicated history of geishas, repurposing the “look” for a major
corporation to sell as role-playing lingerie seems a bit tasteless,” wrote Jessica Wakeman
on the women’s website
“It’s the kind of overt racism masked behind claims of inspired fashion and exploring
sexual fantasy that makes my skin crawl,” blogger Nina Jacinto wrote on
“When someone creates a collection like this, making inauthentic references to “Eastern
culture” (whatever that means) with hints of red or a fan accessory or floral designs, it
reinforces a narrative …,” she wrote. “But when a company takes it one step further by
developing a story about how the clothes can offer a sort of escape using explicit
sexualized and exploitive language, it takes the whole thing to another level…”
While the product has now disappeared from the Victoria’s Secret website, screen grabs
of it have gone viral. Links for both the “Sexy Little Geisha” URL and for the entire “Go
East” collection now lead straight to the company’s home page.
Victoria’s Secret has not made a statement on the line, or its disappearance. A request for
comment by the company from ABC News was not returned.
35 Appendix G
Social Media Campaign
36 Appendix H
Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: “Victoria’s Secret Pulls ‘Sexy Little Geisha’ and ‘Go East’ Collection from Website” Columbus, Ohio – September 26 2012 – Victoria’s Secret has decided to pull their new “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie set from their “Go East” Collection on September 25, 2012, due to criticism over the “offensive nature” of the piece. The “Sexy Little Geisha” set along with the entire “Go East” collection has been removed from all future sales with the Victoria’s Secret Brand. Victoria’s Secret CEO, Lorie Greenly, apologizes to the public stating, “We would like to extend a sincere apology to all individuals who were upset by our offensive “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie set. The Victoria’s Secret Brand strives to respectfully represent all cultures of the world and we take full responsibility for the tasteless collection. We had absolutely no intention to offend or mock Eastern culture. Greenly explains that the brand hopes the complete pull of the collection is a well-­‐received first step in repairing their relationship with the public. As a result of severe criticism from the media and public over the “highly offensive” nature of the collection, Victoria’s Secret has decided to make internal changes to their current practices. Greenly says, “In the future our brand will make strives to continue to represent all cultures in the most respectful way possible. We are making internal changes and instilling a Review Board to ensure this does not happen again.” Victoria’s Secret will be holding a press conference on September 27, 2012. Greenly will be available for the media to ask questions and express concerns over the situation. Interested members of media can contact Erica Zumehy for more information regarding the time and location of press conference. Contact: Erica Zumehly 123 Main Street Columbus, OH 12345 (614) – 577-­‐ 7281 ### Founded in 1977, Victoria’s Secret is an American retailer of women’s wear, lingerie, and beauty products. As the largest segment of Limited Brands, Victoria’s Secret operates over 1,000 stores in the United States, producing sales over approximately $5 billion annually. The iconic brand is recognized for their spokeswomen known as the “Angels,” who perform in the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show. As an industry leader, the organization receives significant media coverage and attention worldwide. 37 Appendix I
Website Text
Victoria’s Secret would like to extend a sincere apology to all individuals who
were upset by our recent “Sexy Little Geisha” lingerie set from the “Go East” Collection.
We are so sorry that the collection offended members of the Asian-American community.
The Victoria’s Secret Brand respectfully represents all cultures of the world and we had
absolutely no intention to offend or mock Eastern culture. In light of recent events and
responses, we have decided to pull the “Go East” collection from our website all together.
We hope that this is sufficient action for our unjust mistake. In the future our brand will
make strives to continue to represent all cultures in the best way possible. We are making
internal changes and a Review Board will be put into place to ensure this does not
happen. Again, we are sincerely sorry.