January 6th 2014

Brand integrity in lingerie marketing

by Martin O'Toole


So the petals are falling off the roses, the cards are gathering dust on the mantle, and our bank balances are a chunk lighter than they were last Thursday, and I’m wondering about some of the brand messages I imbibed over the Valentine’s period and what's happened to the brand integrity of a certain prestigious lingerie brand.

As I've worked in the luxury lingerie sector (and buy enough of the stuff for my girlfriend), I’m on the mailing list of a number of lingerie brands and thus I keep a close eye on lingerie marketing and brands' associated creative strategies. This means my inbox usually contains a an array NSFW imagery – from the decadent to the downright kinky. The annual pre-Valentine's Day push is usually pretty full-on and this year it showed no sign of abatement. However, the thing that struck me was the sudden shift in brand integrity in terms of messaging, as the target audience shifted from women to men. Furthermore, it felt as if there was a sudden misunderstanding of how a luxury lingerie brand might communicate to a male audience.

Having spent seven figures rebranding last year, Ann Summers underwent a large-scale brand overhaul. Speaking in an interview in Jan 2012, Jacqueline Gold commented on the lingerie branding exercise:

“We realised Ann Summers had lost its mojo. Customers were saying we were less edgy compared to the rest of the high street and that there was a lack of naughtiness when comparing the Ann Summers of today to the Ann Summers of old. We recognised that we had become a little too safe and had started to lose what made us different. It gave us the opportunity to reinvigorate our brand. Some businesses might think we were mad to spend on research at such a difficult economic time, but for me it was crucial. It’s the businesses that stand still and stop listening to their customers that will suffer more.”

The rebrand was designed to reposition the brand as one which was influenced by pop culture and women like Rihanna and Christina Aguilera – raising the profile and credibility of the brand, essentially making it more up-market.

For the most part, they’ve done a fantastic job; sales are up, brand awareness is up, and Ann Summer has positioned itself as an open and accessible sex-cessory and lingerie retailer. Their advertising creative and brand messaging has taken a really positive leap forward. Then I saw their 2013 Valentine’s Day offering (clearly targeting men). Surprising to say the least…

Copy-wise, it starts well, with what promises to be a smart script, but then quickly sinks into a pretty tacky approach to marketing the brand’s Valentine’s lingerie range – the low point being a badly edited close-up of a woman’s wide open mouth, catching copious amounts of goo (one assumes lubricant) as it’s poured all over her face. From a brand perspective, I can’t help but wonder whether it’s taking the brand backwards after all the hard work in raising credibility. From a consumer perspective I cringed to the point of whimpering.

In the same week, I received the first of a suite of slick, well styled and art directed emails from my old friends at Agent Provocateur…

Ever since I saw their cinema ad featuring Kylie Minogue, I’ve been a big fan of AP. I’ve loved their brand advertising; their e-commerce, their packaging and indeed their products. Top-class lingerie marketing and always has been - maintaining a consistent level of brand integrity that really did support their high-end pricing. From an ECRM perspective, they’re smart and intuitive; and I can’t help but smile every time they catch me out with re-marketing online display ads following a recent browse through their new lines. All-in-all, a phenomenal luxury lingerie brand in my view.

But then came their 2013 Valentine’s Day ad:

“Have you seen my pussy?” REALLY..?!

So what’s going on here? Two brands with aspirations that were clearly shot down by Cupid’s arrow – both of which have sold out (not in a good way) this Valentine’s Day - in favour of using tacky, low-market and unsophisticated creative. I’m not sure what this says about the brands’ understanding of their male clientele? Have they decided that us fellas are all mindless morons, driven by heinously unsubtle images of lube-soaked lips and utterly shit double entendres from models styled to look like crack whores? Are we so thick and unsophisticated that we need the use of the word ‘pussy’ in lingerie advertising creative to engage us? Errrr nope.

Perhaps as consumers we'll forgive the brands we’re loyal to for their occasional off-brand blips? Or is it possible that such tangent cease-fires on brand integrity could seriously damage our perception of the brands we know and love? Food for thought. Especially in a sector that's growing fast with lower cost me-too brands.

Got a lingerie brand? We want to get a look at your troublesome briefs. Click on the link below to kick off a chat.

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