Online Underwear Brands Are Using Comfort, Innovation and Great Ads to Win Over Consumers

How MeUndies, Tommy John and others are gaining sales

Everlane took a straightforward approach in announcing its new line. Everlane
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Ladies’ lingerie brands are the latest in the fight to fend off digital upstarts. For years, Victoria’s Secret has been the dominant brand, with roughly 50 percent of the women’s underwear market share, but last year its sales reportedly saw a drop-off with each passing month (as much as 10 to 14 percent from month to month in early 2017, per Women’s Wear Daily). And in a recent survey by research firm YouGov BrandIndex, consumer satisfaction has fallen among women 18 to 49.

Now a new wave of undergarments, from Tommy John to ThirdLove, is starting to garner attention and win over consumers thanks to new marketing tactics and product innovation. “These competitors have the advantage of being a new voice in this market while Victoria’s Secret is really stuck trying to turn the Titanic,” Valerie Aurilio, executive creative director at Landor, said. “These brands haven’t lost sight of what’s important. The product is the focus of what they are selling.”

That’s not to say Victoria’s Secret is going away. Analysts suggest that as long as women buy lingerie and athletic wear, Victoria’s Secret has a spot in the marketplace, even if its presence is shrinking. “Victoria’s Secret will be around in 10 years, but it’s going to be much smaller and to some extent part of it is their traditional retail foundation,” Allen Adamson, c0-founder and managing partner of Metaforce, predicted. Victoria’s Secret did not respond to a request for comment.

Some undergarment brands like MeUndies launched as a means of convenience for customers, sending members a fresh pair of undies each month. “The convenience of having … the most comfortable underwear delivered each month is an easy way to refresh the entire underwear drawer,” Jonathan Shokrian, MeUndies founder, explained.

Other brands like Tommy John also think about convenience, but put product innovation at the forefront of what it does. Tommy John, which launched 10 years ago for men, started as a way to fix comfort and design flaws that customers experienced with other boxer or brief brands. After years of women either buying the men’s product or repeatedly asking for a women’s line, Tommy John finally delivered in early April. “There was a gap in the market for comfortable, functional and sexy underwear. We didn’t feel that women should have to compromise comfort for sexiness or sexiness for functionality,” Tommy John marketing chief Josh Dean said. Dean said the women’s line sold more in its first day than the men’s line sold in the company’s first year in business. Clearly the hunch paid off.

ThirdLove launched in 2013 on a similar premise—there was a gap in the market when it came to comfortable bras that were well made and fit women of all sizes. The online retailer became the first and only brand to offer half-cup sizes for women. Overall, ThirdLove has nearly 70 sizes available, which is more than double Victoria’s Secret—the brand’s biggest competition. While developing nearly 70 sizes, ThirdLove has collected data from nearly 9.5 million women through the brand’s fit finder—an online quiz designed to find the perfect-fitting bra. For that reason, co-founder Heidi Zak believes her company has staying power in the competitive industry as more look-alike brands surface and as traditional retailers try to revamp their product and marketing.

These brands are also standing out among female consumers with a new approach to marketing underwear. Typically, women are sold lace and frills by women who, by definition, represent an unrealistic standard of beauty. At least that’s what Tommy John’s CMO noticed when the brand started to work on its inaugural marketing campaign for the launch of its women’s line. “There’s a lot of very serious and sexualized advertising out there. No one has really talked to women in an engaging and humorous way about their underwear that addresses the problems they face in a way that doesn’t take itself too seriously,” Dean said.

Tommy John’s first marketing campaign tapped actress Elizabeth Banks to direct a series of lighthearted and humorous spots about the everyday underwear problems women face. A 60-second spot from the brand’s “Little Adjustments” campaign garnered over 1 million YouTube views in just a week, proving the success of the message and its tone. Ecommerce brand Everlane took a similar approach when launching its underwear line in March. The brand ran out-of-home, digital and social ads announcing the “No frills. No bows. No bullshit.” line. While these spots weren’t necessarily humorous, they did take a straightforward approach with consumers and showed women of all shapes and sizes.

This story first appeared in the April 30, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

@ktjrichards Katie Richards is a staff writer for Adweek.