Sales & Marketing

Is there a problem with women's online fashion?

6 min read

08 November 2019

Features Editor, Real Business

The Advertising Standards Agency, (ASA) has condemned a number of women's e-commerce brands for their sexualised messaging that appears to objectify women.

Should fashion brands take responsibility if their branding and messaging have the potential to produce negative self-perceptions in customers?

What happens when a brand targets, (and targets successfully), consumers who are likely to be more emotionally affected by certain forms of branding and messaging than other groups?

Could this be happening in the world of millennial and Gen Z women’s online fashion?

The rise of fast-fashion e-commerce

In an era where social media and reality TV ‘celebrity’ has collided with the highly lucrative world of younger women’s e-commerce brands, the likes of Missguided, PrettyLittleThing, Nasty Gal and Boohoo are the result.

Why are they so successful?

Via their ‘fast’ on-trend releases, rapid delivery and relatively relaxed return policies, they have revolutionised the way consumers consume affordable fashion. Leaving their high street counterparts like Topshop, outdated and unappreciated by younger shoppers.

Zeitgeist era campaigns

Molly-Mae

Love Island Season 5 contestant Molly-May Hague has launched a collection with PrettyLittleThing. Source: prettylittlething

Running white-hot campaigns that marry their brands with social media celebrity ambassadors, many are doing it to tap into popular reality tv shows their core consumer base watches.

Missguided, for example, ran a successful partnership with Love Island, (a show that regularly draws in record numbers of viewers particularly between the ages of 16-24).

The “Love Island” effect

Boohoo is also known to have ex-Islanders model their collections.

These brand campaigns, (linking easy online shopping with the celebrities their core consumers love), are bird-feed for millennial and Gen Z consumers who are naturally more attracted to influencer marketing and advertising than cold hard sells.

Many of these brands have done exceptionally well out of these innovative campaigns, (with the likes of Manchester-born Boohoo earning unicorn status).

So, what’s the problem?

(Maura Higgins, above*, is the latest ex-Love Islander to become a Boohoo ambassador).

It could be the fact that these brands are aligning themselves with contestants from a show that sometimes* features sexually explicit content.

Love Island + provocative branding = sexualisation?

The provocative posing, skimpy clothes and a sexual attitude in many of these adverts wouldn’t be worth mentioning unless it wasn’t happening across e-commerce brands and was directly connected to a reality show that “creates a sexual spectacle of young people”, according to a 2016 watchdog comment.

It’s been happening for a while, and even before the ‘Love Island effect’ took hold.

Check out the below 2016 advert from Missguided entitled, “babes on the run.”

Boohoo is one brand that’s been blasted by the Advertising Standards Authority, (ASA), this year for creating a “potentially harmful social trend” in a recent marketing campaign.

The retailer used the phrase “send nudes” as part of an email drive to promote a range of ‘skin-coloured’ clothing.

The ASA condemns Boohoo and Missguided

The ASA, while admitting that ‘nude’ is a common term used in the fashion industry, said that Boohoo’s use of the phrase could be interpreted in a sexual manner by their target market, namely younger female consumers.

Considering that young women continue to be more susceptible to incidences of sexually motivated cyberbullying in the UK shows this marketing scheme was poorly judged.

“Promoting a lifestyle,” – what lifestyle?

The ASA also banned a Missguided advert that aired in June 2019, commenting that the advert was “highly sexualised” and “objectified” women.

Missguided responded by saying the advert was promoting a “particular lifestyle,” not simply the products.

While some might think these comments are a reflection of the ‘appropriate police,’ a very liberal-minded female entrepreneur agrees with the ASA that such brands generally should be held accountable for negatively influencing young consumers:

“Businesses must take responsibility,” – Emma Sayle, CEO and Founder, Killing Kittens

Businesses have to take social responsibility for their campaigns. Sexualising advertising campaigns and digital, including, social marketing campaigns, categorically sends the wrong image to young and increasingly more impressionable girls, in today’s society.

We need to inspire the next generation of young girls to get out there and be whatever they want to be, instilling from the get-go that they are not less than men and that, frankly, their lives do not revolve around their physical looks and perceived sex appeal.

Brands need to be encouraging the bigger picture; fundamentally their own self-worth and can start now by eradicating the message that sexualising yourself with medical enhancement or provocative poses is the way to ‘get ahead.’

Girls need to be educated to understand their own sexuality, taught that there is more than their sexual gender.

It is down to these brands to own their responsibility in marketing that messaging and supporting exactly the audiences they’re engaging with.