Brand Journal #5: Aerie is Almost There

This post is part of an assignment for my Global Branding course at WU.

A brand I have become ambivalent to is Aerie, the child company of American Eagle Outfitters that sells lingerie and loungewear. Up until recently, I loved the company for its core values and branding that were feminist, progressive, and fun, but upon more reading about the firm and the lingerie industry as a whole, I have become hesitant to give the company too much credit. Nevertheless, Aerie is a prime example of strong branding, successful marketing campaigns, and repositioning and the profitability of marketing “realness” to a consumer base growing weary of unattainable, fabricated beauty standards.

The 10 year old lingerie retailer targets young women from the ages of 15 to 25 (millennials and now Generation Z) with middle income backgrounds and medium price sensitivity. These women want comfortable, fashionable, and practical bras, underwear, and loungewear and value quality, personal style, and comfort over aspiring to reach unrealistic standards of sexiness. They use their products often and lead active or semi-active lifestyles in which lingerie is not their main concern. Originally, the target market was geographically restricted to the U.S. but the company soon expanded its physical stores to Canada and now ships to dozens of countries internationally. The focus is still primarily North America and the UK. Aerie customers also value female empowerment, self-confidence, and body positivity, brand values Aerie adopted in 2014 when it launched #AerieREAL, an ongoing campaign to stop retouching its models and showcase “real” women.

aerie-real-campaign
From initial launch in 2014

The company “revolutionized” the lingerie industry with its bold and progressive stance on female body image, a significant contrast to main competitors like Victoria’s Secret, the market leader; PINK, Victoria’s Secret’s college targeted subsidiary; and countless other lingerie brands that promote traditional standards of feminine beauty in their marketing strategies: thin women with large breasts, flawless skin, and pale complexions.

 

ht_victorias_secret_ad_mt_141106_12x5_1600
Victoria’s Secret ad | Pretty ironic right?

Granted, many of Aerie’s not supermodels still look like this but at least they’re not retouched with Photoshop. Scars, stretch marks, belly fat, tattoos, and weird moles all make it to the final compositions that are published to marketing pages, the online store, billboards, television ads, in-store posters, and social media. A list of Aerie’s POPs and PODs with competitors PINK and Victoria’s Secret, to pick just two, follows:

POPs

  • With VS
  • With PINK
    • Target market
    • Younger models (20s)
    • Brand elements: fun, fresh, casual, flirty
  • With both
    • Variety of cuts: demi, plunge, scoop, push-up, bralettes
    • Product lines: bras, underwear, lounge/sleep wear, sport, swim
    • Sizing is comparable

PODs

  • Unretouched models in official marketing comps
  • Body-positive branding
  • Partnership with NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association)
  • Primarily online sales/e-commerce
  • Less stores

When choosing PODs, companies must consider the desirability, deliverability, and differentiation of each attribute to ensure that their positioning is effective. The aforementioned PODs sufficiently satisfy each measure since body-positive values are desirable to most consumers and are not promoted by most competitors in the lingerie market. These PODs are deliverable by being feasible and communicable. Choosing not to retouch models is not difficult and clearly communicates the body-positive messaging Aerie desires. Though Aerie could do more to truly be body-positive (which I will cover in more detail later), the implementation of their positioning as a “real” brand was successful in terms of profitability, market growth (10% more customers from 2015-2016), and media attention.

At the start of the campaign, the positioning was primarily focused on the lack of retouching to show “realness” but as the #AerieREAL movement grew, the branding expanded to general body positivity and female empowerment. In the spirit of fairytales and whimsy linked with autumn spirit, October vibes, and Halloween celebrations, Aerie launched the “No Prince Needed” campaign. Its unretouched models lounged around in cozy fairytale castles and cabins, reenacting famous stories like “The Princess and the Pea” while showing off cute and comfortable Aerie lingerie. Copy about the strength and independence of women reinforced the idea that though they are “princesses” they are strong individuals who neither need or are defined by men.

Real dreams. Real magic. Real wishes. #AerieREAL

A post shared by aerie (@aerie) on

 

Since its inception, Aerie has expanded its positioning and the scope of Aerie REAL. Well, to be critical the positioning itself has not changed or evolved much; the implementation has merely improved over time to more accurately reflect the brand values Aerie wishes to promote. Though the company was lauded for its “bold” stance on beauty, especially in the lingerie market, critics were quick to dispel the undeserved hype with reality checks on what Aerie’s campaigns really implied. Despite promoting “realness” and body-positivity, the models used were still conventionally attractive, a choice that could be even more dangerous than the promotion of indisputably “unreal” supermodels. The underlying message of pairing unretouched but conventionally attractive models with the words “real girl” is that anyone else is simply not real. At least with Photoshopped supermodels, everyone knew those looks were unattainable, but this kind of “realness” was extra insulting to those with unconventional body types and appearances who felt they were more directly invalidated than ever before.

Aerie is doing better now that they have a more diverse range of body types. Additionally, they have moved away from partnering with big name celebrities who fit conventional beauty standards (Emma Roberts) and turned to models Barbie Ferreira and Iskra Lawrence, who both have unconventional body types, as spokespersons. The company also shares consumers’ social media posts or stories about what makes them #AerieREAL.

Aerie is on track to actually making changes in the industry and owning up to the values it preaches. Though it has taken two years to see real action behind Aerie’s marketing campaign, I am glad that there is some substance to the company’s claims. It would be a gross repackaging of feminist and social values for corporate greed otherwise and a marketing ploy I could never support.

💪🏼 #AerieREAL

A post shared by aerie (@aerie) on

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