The two marketing strategies companies employ to attract Gen Z customers could not be more different. Influencer based marketing, a traditional approach to online retail, allures consumers by recreating looks from models they follow on social media. On the other hand, a body-positive marketing approach establishes the perception that the brand is accepting of all shapes and sizes. A storm of consumer activism through social media has put intense pressure on brands to show they are stepping up efforts to reinforce diversity and inclusivity by incorporating both body-positive and racially diverse models into their promotions.
The Body Positivity Movement That Has Reshaped Branding
Making the switch to a body-positive brand image is a lot more involved than simply pledging to never airbrush bodies of models in campaigns. This switch has the power to completely reshape the brand, no pun intended. For quite some time, advertisers initially refused to create body-positive ads out of fear that sales would suffer. Brands felt that difficulties arose when trying to flatter clothes on models that weren’t thin, white, and a relatively plain canvas, like those they were used to dressing.
Dove Beauty was the first company to tackle the transitional difficulties from influencer based to body-positive marketing. After softly launching its Real Beauty campaign in 2004, Dove began to stand out among its many competitors. Their campaign was successful; the publicity grew Dove to a 2.3% market share in the lotions category after only two quarters. Brands soon realized the benefits of body-positive ads stemmed much deeper than improving the body image and mental health of impressionable young adults. Switching to a body-positive marketing approach was a trendy way to increase sales and create a self-righteous reputation.
Aerie, an inclusive lingerie brand, was in a similar situation to Dove; they blended right into the crowded market for women’s underwear. In 2014, Aerie launched its #AerieREAL campaign, a bold commitment to stop editing pictures of their models. This campaign led Aerie to double its market share from 1.6% in 2013 to 3.2% in 2018. Consequently, Victoria’s Secret, which held 31.7% of the market in 2013, was down to 24% in 2018. Unlike Aerie, VS stuck with their traditional, influencer based marketing approach. Their downfall can be attributed to a combination of tone-deafness, shallow comments made by its former CEO, and a delay in recognizing all “Angels” don’t need to wear a size 2.
Aerie’s ability to capture market share from its biggest competitor through the implementation of body-positive ads represents a powerful switch in consumer taste. The opportunity to expand sales while cohesively breaking down the stigma around body image seems unpassable. As a result, many brands have embraced the need to change, but others are behind, crumbling under the weight of toxic body standards that just don’t sell anymore.
Brandy Melville, a brand that has been repetitively bashed for its one size fits all sizing, has had an 18.3% decline in total website traffic in just one month (between August 2020 and September 2020). This decrease in demand can be partially attributed to the coronavirus recession; for reference, ASOS, one of its body-positive competitors, was down 5% in the same period. However, the recognition that Brandy fuels body dysmorphia and disordered eating has driven away a consumer population that now cares more about ethics than aesthetics. Brandy’s silence during a body-positive movement era has eroded sales.
A fashion statement has morphed from an eccentric, attention-grabbing style to a profound message on inclusivity and ethical operations. Today, if brands want to be respected and trendy, they must express they’re serious about racial and size inclusivity. Sales, online shopping traffic patterns, and market shares reflect that consumers’ tastes now favor morality, putting us on the brink of an industrial revolution in retail.