Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show Offers Unique Advertising Model

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The Victoria's Secret Fashion Show aired on CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) on Dec. 10 bringing in 9.7 million viewers -- up a tick from last year. What makes this particular infomercial different from the rest, garnering it a primetime spot on a major network? Is it really just the allure of women in their underwear setting this hour-long promo spot apart from the likes of the Snuggie or Slap Chop?

The answer appears to be "yes." 

Source: Steve Rhodes

Owned by Limited Brands (NYSE: LB  ) , Victoria's Secret is known worldwide for its lingerie and fragrance collections. But mostly, it's the underwear that people think of when referring to "Vickie's secret," and that's what makes the Fashion Show so interesting: how did a lingerie company wind up with an annual show on TV? They're by no means the biggest company on the planet, bringing in $6.12 billion in sales last year. 

When the show got its start back in 1995, it had a budget of just $120,000. In 2013, that budget went all the way to $12 million. It's no wonder with all the Swarovski crystals, fancy feathers, and musical performances by the likes of Fall Out Boy and Taylor Swift. And you can't forget the Royal Fantasy Bra -- a piece of lingerie encrusted with rubies, diamonds, and sapphires, all set in 18-karat gold. This year, the bedazzled bra was worn by model Candice Swanepoel. Tickets for the show cost upwards of $14,000, even!

All of the extravagance that is unique to this particular event aside, let's ponder for a moment what an informercial for another Limited Brands company might look like. Bath and Body Works is known for its lotions and soaps and made $2.67 billion in sales last year. Quite a bit less than Victoria's Secret, but still a sizable sum. What if Bath and Body Works wished to make a major marketing push around the holidays? TV advertising is always big -- people are looking for gifts to buy their loved ones, after all. And who doesn't like stuff that smells good? 

But there's a problem.

How would Bath and Body Works create a program around their products? How would the store convince major musicians and pop stars to jump up on stage? Lotion bottles on display, no matter how sparkly they might be, don't make for good television.

While Victoria's Secret does sell lotion and perfume products, its focus is on wearables. The particular sort of wearable that makes it perfectly acceptable to have women strutting down a runway in nothing but their skivvies on primetime television, apparently. And that is good TV. 

Plus, there's the cost factor. NCIS, the hour-long drama that aired just before the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show this year, commands $161,730 for a 30-second ad spot. That means an hour's worth of advertising (subtracting 20 minutes for, ironically enough, ads) costs $12.94 million. This is just a rough estimate, but that's a lot of money to sink into an ad that will air just once. 

When you factor in cost and presentation concerns, it seems the only kinds of companies that have a shot at succeeding by following in Victoria's Secret footsteps are other fashion retailers, jewelry manufacturers, and perhaps auto companies. The cars could sit on pedestals while bands play among them. It'd be great. 

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