The biggest deal I was ever a part of was for Victoria's Secret. Back in 2001, in coordination with Universal Music Group's Classics Group, we forged a deal to sell in two million custom Andrea Bocelli CDs in conjunction with his appearance on the brand's network TV fashion show. I also worked with the brand on a much smaller deal in 2005 while at Sony BMG, developing a Chris Botti single-artist compilation which was sold during the Valentine's Day selling season of 2006.
I hadn't heard of the brand doing a deal to bring in any music CDs into the chain since.
In 2003, Victoria's Secret did a custom, single-artist Sting CD with Universal. Sting also appeared on the brand's network TV fashion show special. In 2004, I believe, Victoria's Secret launched a TV campaign featuring not only the music of, but the presence of, musical icon Bob Dylan. At first, some questioned Dylan's choice for appearing in the campaign, but more so, there were voices critical of Victoria's Secret for using Dylan at all. As Seth Stevenson from Slate noted at the time:
So, it makes some sense for Bob. But what about Vicky? Why would a brand that's about sexiness, youth, and glamour want any connection at all with a decrepit, sixtysomething folksinger? The answer, my friend, is totally unclear. The answer is totally unclear.
Even if Victoria's Secret hopes to bring in more boomer women, do those women want their underwear to exude the spirit and essence of Bob Dylan? Or, conversely, is Bob Dylan the sort of man they're hoping to attract? Even if you're of the belief that men frequently shop at VS for their ladies, I still don't see the appeal of this ad. I, for instance, am a man, and I can assure you that Bob Dylan is not what I'm looking for in a woman's undergarment. (And if I found him there—man, would that be disturbing.)
Victoria's Secret wouldn't return my calls, but media reports say the idea of putting Dylan's face in the ad (they'd been using his song—"Love Sick"—in ads for the past year or so) came straight from corporate chief Les Wexner. To the company's surprise, Dylan accepted their offer. It's at this point that someone at Victoria's Secret should have stopped the madness. Just because you can hire Bob Dylan as the figurehead for your lingerie line, doesn't mean you should. Perhaps no one was willing to say no to the big boss, or perhaps they fully expected Dylan to say no. Joke's on them.
Victoria's Secret also ordered up a few hundred thousand custom Bob Dylan CDs from Sony Music... CDs which did not sell well at all for the brand.
It was after that campaign that the brand shied away from making large commitments on selling CDs in its stores, despite the ad campaign receiving serious buzz when it launched.
Notice one other thing here: Andrea Bocelli, Sting, Bob Dylan, Chris Botti - they are all male artists that the brand surmised would appeal to its core female shopper. They weren't appealing to the male aficionados of the Victoria's Secret catalog. In that sense, most of these seem smart tie-in partner artists for this brand to align with.
So, imagine my surprise checking out the Wall Street Journal today and reading how Victoria's Secret is going to be the exclusive retailer for a new Spice Girls greatest hits CD through January of 2008 (paid subscription required). Capitol Records is selling over 500,000 units of this release - on a one-way basis - to the chain. The group will also appear on the upcoming Victoria's Secret fashion show broadcast.
I'm all for making deals, but I think the question now, as back in 2004, is what does Victoria's Secret get out of this deal? In this case, more specifically, the question to be raised is: "Why is Victoria's Secret partnering with a group out of the limelight since earlier this decade, a group which has no current relevance to the U.S. marketplace, a group whose hits (even "Wannabe") faded into the ether of pop ephemera? And even if they are able to answer that question in a reasoned manner, then why in God's name did they purchase so many of these CDs... on a one-way basis?!?!" Is Mrs. Beckham's allure really that compelling to the Victoria's Secret audience? More than Rihanna? More than Fergie? More than Beyonce or Jennifer Lopez (both of whom own their own fashion lines, so their fit with the brand may well have diminished)? But at least those acts are more fresh and current-sounding than the Spice Girls. I've sold frontline CDs into "non-traditional accounts" on a one-way basis, and record companies should continue to sell CDs into these accounts using that method. I'm sure the label is taking a certain amount of margin hit in order to make that scenario more palatable for Victoria's Secret. BUT, there was seemingly little incentive for the chain to commit so much money - and I'm assuming it's at least $3 million - to purchase this amount of CDs. Yes, they are going to be selling the CDs for a profit, but just as with other merchandise sold in their stores, Victoria's Secret will be stuck with a lot of cold merchandise if the Spice Girls CDs don't sell well.
Yes, CDs are more of an impulse buy item than in years past. Yes, it is smart for a record company to sell in releases to chains like Victoria's Secret. But shouldn't the merchandise fit into the lifestyle of the chain's customers? For all the research done on fabrics and designs by the Victoria's Secret team - my preliminary instinct is that they went with the Spice Girls based on instinct alone. If an American can name as many, or more than, three Spice Girls hits they are a rare exception, and this is a U.S.-only deal.
So the big bet Victoria's Secret is making is that the Spice Girls' presence will help cause a run on their stores for the CD, but, more importantly, lead to an uptick in sales overall at their stores during this promotion. I applaud the brand for finally going outside of the "male artist" box and noticing their predominantly female customer base enjoys music from and admires female artists as well. It remains to be seen if the Spice Girls, and this particular greatest hits project of theirs, will serve to move the needle in a positive direction.