What lingerie can teach about marketing to women



Lingerie is the final frontier….that last piece of clothing before we are laid bare. The fascination with lingerie across history even warranted a special exhibition in New York last November 2014 by the Fashion Institute of Technology, aptly named Exposed: As History of Lingerie.   For a long time, many lingerie brands did not even carry bras in sizes larger than a cup size D. There was a misguided assumption on behalf of lingerie manufacturers, that women who were well endowed, didn’t actually want to wear beautiful underwear. They probably thought it was a question of function over form.  What they also failed to recognise was that women want to buy lingerie for themselves, for a variety of reasons, form, function and fun! Thankfully that has all changed and the variety and choice of brands and bras is immense.

Any product that has to deal with women and their bodies and how they are portrayed in media will always provoke emotions of one kind of another. Body image for women is a hot topic and can push many people’s buttons, so there will always be a high chance of controversy.  Regardless, lingerie advertising and campaigns are by and large targeted at women, so as a study of what does and does not work, reviewing the recent wave of digital chatter around lingerie advertising provides some good examples.  Let’s look at three lingerie brands to demonstrate what I am talking about. Global lingerie fashion house Victoria Secret, Performance underwear brand Dear Kate and New Zealand lingerie company Lonely™ Lingerie.

Victoria Secret launched a holiday campaign in late 2014 around a tagline “The Perfect “Body”. It was to launch a range of bras called Body by Victoria. The original campaign and visuals was open to the interpretation that their models had in fact perfect bodies. The digital backlash was immense. A group of women in the UK launched a petition on change.org to have the company change their slogan. Thousands of women took to Twitter and launched their own campaign called #IAmPerfect.

Given that Victoria Secret markets pretty exclusively to women, I wonder did they consider how this campaign could have been interpreted? They mistakenly believed they controlled the conversation around the definition of “The Perfect Body.” In fairness the range was called “Body by Victoria” so that is likely what their interpretation was. However, perhaps if they had asked their female target audience how they would define this and engaged with their legion of Victoria Secret fans to define and create content around their definition of “the perfect body”, things may have been very different. Kudos however to the company who did change the slogan to “a body for everybody.” That was an example of doing what they should have done to start with- listening!

The Perfect Body

A smart move by underwear label Dear Kate to capitalise on this backlash, was a decision to launch their own “perfect body” campaign which was a beautiful representation of a diverse group of women of all shapes and sizes. It garnered a lot of support and was applauded for being a lingerie company that actually wanted to represent real women.  Also more recently, Lane Bryant, again leveraged the digital chatter around this topic to launch their new campaign with #ImNoAngel. The campaign encouraged customers to share their own body-confident selfies. What both Dear Kate and Lane Bryant demonstrated was how to harness the power of a “digital conversation” to drive awareness. They also demonstrated that they empathised with what some women were feeling. This gave women a sense of understanding and that they were being listened to, two things that women in general value very highly when it comes to brand relationships. 

Dear Kate perfect body_1

Dear Kate later launched a different campaign around the theme of women in technology. This lingerie brand is known for choosing to use real women rather than models to represent their brand. An article in Time magazine suggested however that the campaign went a step too far and “the pictures compromise the fight for women to be taken seriously in an industry plagued by accusations of misogyny.”  Those who supported the campaign said that traditional lingerie advertising usually focuses on women looking pretty, where as this campaign was focused on successful women in tech, who are in positions of power and control. Dear Kate argued that the advertising was empowering to women. Plus at the end of the day it is an underwear company, so it has to feature women in underwear.  What Dear Kate does really well is the consistency of its brand message and the authentic and intelligent way in which it communicates with its female customers. According to Julie Sygiel, founder and CEO of Dear Kate, she wanted to structure a campaign about what women think and do, rather than what they look like.  She achieved that. Of course there would be many who would disagree, but that is advertising.Dear Kate High Tech

A fantastic example of a lingerie brand that really seems to have connected with its female audience is New Zealand’s own Lonely™ Lingerie They have won fans the world over thanks to their unique marketing – which takes the ‘real women’ focus literally, using real life customers in their promotional images, rather than models. This is a brand that really knows how to leverage social media and the power that women as brand advocates in the digital domain can wield. The most notable of these advocates is Lena Dunham who shared a picture of herself in her Lonely Lingerie on Instagram with a caption “Love my @lonelylingerie and I think I will wear it to dinner with some boots and a smile because we are all very lucky to be free”. 

Lena Dunham

What Lonely Lingerie executed extremely well was a photo competition which ended up being a photo diary that showcased their real life customers. The Project encompasses everything Lonely is about, a lingerie brand that speaks to women with realistic imagery. The collection of images has become The Lonely Girls Project. Where lingerie advertising is often a projection of what women should aspire towards, this collection of imagery offers an alternative perspective, a representation of lingerie in real life settings, not overtly sexualised and not necessarily just at night either. It showcases women, living in and comfortable in their lingerie. 

These are three examples of three very different campaigns promoting a similar product and most likely with a similar goal, to convince women that they will love and feel good in their lingerie and obviously to buy it.  The overarching lesson to be learned in terms of marketing to women, especially in the digital world, is brands need a reality check. Women are smart and they want to be treated with respect. They also want brands to live in their world, their reality. If you miss the mark on this one, then they sure as hell will let you know and won’t be shy about it either.

Also remember that if your brand or campaign wishes to give women something to aspire to, then it is wise to ensure that it is something that women might actually aspire to. Maybe “Perfect” is not top of that list.