Uplifting Bra Ads

A vintage spot is more provocative than one from sexy specialist Victoria's Secret

It’s safe to say that, even today, nice girls don’t dream of hanging out in a pool hall while wearing only a bra. Contemporary lingerie ads usually look a lot more like the one at the very bottom of this page—fleshy, of course, if not exactly surprising.

But in 1963, when the ad below (scroll down to see it) ran in the pages of Life magazine, nice girls were indeed surprised—specifically, by a rather immodest scenario (one of many) from the creative mind of Kitty D’Alessio, working as a Manhattan copywriter decades before she’d become president of Chanel. It was called the "I Dreamed" campaign, and it was so successful that Maidenform would run it for 20 years. Each ad featured a woman confessing she’d dreamt of wearing her Maidenform bra while doing something manly or socially assertive—going on safari, winning an election or, in this case, shooting a little nine-ball. By comparison, even the come-hither stare of the Victoria’s Secret model opposite barely warrants a PG rating.

Still, Maidenform’s approach does beg an obvious question: What on earth did a bra have to do with playing pool? Nothing, really. "It was a silly concept—silly and mildly scandalous," said veteran adman Bob Hoffman, CEO of Hoffman | Lewis. "The silliness was forgiven by the 'dream' contrivance. The scandalousness was a little more subtle. It wasn’t the first time America saw a model in a bra—but it may have been the first time we saw a model in a bra in a social situation. What made the campaign so powerful was exactly this juxtaposition of incongruities."

Regrettably, the passing of 48 years has rendered the once powerful into the comical (was this woman’s hairdo shaped like her bra on purpose?) But one thing’s beyond dispute: The "I Dreamed" campaign was meant to turn heads—and that, it still does.

Asked to appraise the 2010 Biofit ad below, Hoffman said: "It’s a generic ad featuring a model in a coquettish pose that looks like a zillion other supermodels in coquettish poses."


For the record, the model is Adriana Lima—the fourth top-earning supermodel in the world, who took home $7.5 million last year. And good for her. But what’s the message to ordinary-looking consumers? Beats us.

"It lacks the one thing that differentiates an ad from a catalog page," Hoffman added—"that quaint old thing called a concept."


@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.