Here’s Why Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is an Advertising Darling

Millions of people are expected to tune into the annual Victoria’s Secret (NYSE:LTD) fashion show set to air tonight at 10 p.m. on CBS (NYSE:CBS). But while the show promotes the brand, and most definitely the models, it is not an hour-long advertisement as one would be inclined to think. In fact, most of what one sees walking down the runway can’t be found in any Victoria’s Secret store.

The $12 million television event, which will be broadcast in over 180 countries, will feature the world’s top models wearing huge wings and bejeweled bras walking down the runway to live music performed by some of today’s most popular recording artists.

Francois Lee of ad-buying firm MediaVest says, “It’s become a performance-slash-lifestyle-slash-variety show and, of course, with models wearing intimate apparel.” It has changed from “just an extension of a catalog to really showcasing the lifestyle aspect of the brand.” President of reality production house JUMA Entertainment, Bob Horowitz, says “It’s a marketing marvel.”

The show debuted in 1995 at the Plaza Hotel in Manhattan and has been televised yearly since 2001, except for in 2004, when it was pulled in the aftermath of Janet Jackson’s “wardrobe malfunction” at the Super Bowl.

Rather than promote its products, the Victoria’s Secret (NYSE:LTD) fashion show promotes the brand — and it works. Last year, the company’s net sales were $5.5 billion. “It’s the only one-hour network show dedicated to a single brand,” says Monica Mitro, executive VP of brand communications and events at Victoria’s Secret. “It puts our brand in front of millions of people around the world during the crucial holiday period.” And who doesn’t want to look like (or look at) a Victoria’s Secret supermodel around the holidays?

Victoria’s Secret licenses the show to CBS (NYSE:CBS) for about $1 million — being paid rather than paying for what is essentially an hour-long advertising block. In the U.S. alone, the show is watched by roughly 9 million viewers. More than half of the 2010 audience was in the 18-49 age range, helping CBS reach a key demographic.

“We are a big-tent broadcaster. We want everybody,” says Jack Sussman, CBS executive VP of specials, music and live events. “This diversifies our portfolio of specials.” The fashion show brings in more viewers than most of CBS’s original programming, allowing the network to make a hefty sum in advertising while spending markedly less than it does on shows like “Two and a Half Men”.