A Scandalous Month Pays Off for Victoria’s Secret

Victoria's Secret PINK Fashion Island Store in Newport Beach, Calif. Photograph by Charley Gallay/Getty Images for Victoria's Secret

A little controversial marketing is never a bad thing for lingerie sales.

Limited Brands, which owns Victoria’s Secret, as well as Bath & Body Works, today announced a bullish gain in sales for March, the same month its “Bright Young Things” ad campaign sparked a consumer backlash from thousands of parents.

The marketing blitz corresponded to a line of skimpy apparel designed to appeal to the spring break crowd (or anyone else in need of a thong plastered with the words “call me”).

The backlash was swift, as thousands of critics signed an online petition calling the initiative “a glaring example of a culture forcing girls to grow up too fast.” But teenage rebellion can be a powerful—and lucrative—thing.

Companywide, Limited’s same-store sales rose 3 percent in March, compared with Wall Street expectations of a flat month. All of Limited’s brands posted healthy gains, but Victoria’s Secret, which is responsible for about two-thirds of the company’s revenue, has an outsize effect on performance.

The results stood out among a stream of ho-hum reports from other retailers, including Costco Wholesale and T.J. Maxx.

Critics of Victoria’s Secret got particularly vocal when Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer seemed to imply the company was targeting high schoolers.

“When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be?” Burgdoerfer reportedly said at a conference. “They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at [Victoria Secret's young-adult brand] PINK.”

Limited, which had not immediately returned calls at time of publication, did some quick damage control, pulling the ads and some corresponding products by the end of March. It also said the campaign was aimed at college-aged women, a demographic it has targeted with its PINK line since 2002.

But the March data show the controversial marketing may have paid off, in spite of—or because of—the publicity it sparked. It certainly got traders hot and bothered: The stock price closed the day 4.3 percent higher.

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