ANALYSIS: Fashion PR - Bra brands elicit an emotional support. The battle for a share of the bra market has seen a rise in brand marketing and the use of PR to sell the benefits of cleavage, content and discretion, rather than technical aspects

The revelation two weeks ago that Playtex, maker of the Wonderbra, has parted company with its consumer PR agency of nine months Ketchum Life, could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. The split is reportedly part of the fall-out from the departure of Playtex marketing director Victor Crawford in May, and comes only 14 months after the lingerie leader ended its nine-year relationship with Jackie Cooper PR because of client conflict.

The revelation two weeks ago that Playtex, maker of the Wonderbra,

has parted company with its consumer PR agency of nine months Ketchum

Life, could hardly have come at a more inopportune time. The split is

reportedly part of the fall-out from the departure of Playtex marketing

director Victor Crawford in May, and comes only 14 months after the

lingerie leader ended its nine-year relationship with Jackie Cooper PR

because of client conflict.



With talk of ’bra wars’ entering a new round of offensives and

manufacturers - including Gossard and Triumph - set to launch new

products over the next two months, Playtex could find itself short on PR

ammunition.



But Playtex managing director John Dixey says London PR, which has

handled Playtex’s Lovable and Fila brands for the past five years, along

with freelancers, will fill the breach until the void is filled.



The origins of these so-called bra wars go back to 1994, when the

Wonderbra license was transferred by owner Canadelle Inc from Gossard to

Playtex.



Within weeks, Wonderbra-wearing Eva Herzigova was declaring ’Hello Boys’

from billboards, while Gossard squared up with its rival

cleavage-enhancing product, Ultrabra.



The 1999 version of this conflict features some new players, including

Pretty Polly, which entered the market in May with a marketing spend of

pounds 16 million for its launch year.



Such financial commitment from former Playtex head and current Pretty

Polly managing director Brian Duffy has reunited the 1994 Wonderbra

campaign team of Jackie Cooper PR and TBWA creative director Trevor

Beattie. ’We have come up with a strategy from source that is truly

integrated, not the ’PR-ing’ of an advertising campaign,’ says Jackie

Cooper.



This activity has included an exclusive spread in the Sunday Mirror,

featuring IT-girls Lady Camilla Astor, Lili Maltese and Jadene Doran,

and the TV advertising strapline, ’Oooh it’s the way they make you

feel’.



’Women don’t want to know about the technical aspects of a bra,’ says

Cooper. ’It’s all about creating an emotional confidence.’



As part of its guerrilla tactics, Cooper and her team distributed 5,000

’Oooh I’m a sex goddess’ stickers to bars, clubs and tube stations in

London and targeted opinion-formers such as Radio One DJ Zoe Ball with

answering-machine tapes bearing the message.



As fashion trends move on, new hi-tech materials mean bras for boosting

and baring all sit alongside secretive second skins, sporty numbers, and

minimisers. Only last month, entrepreneur Michelle Mone entered the fray

with her pounds 35 ’cleavage with comfort’ gel cushion Ultimo bra, due

to hit the high street in late-August.



But most bra makers which have been in the market for the long haul

believe their heritage of design excellence keeps them one step ahead.

’The product is king,’ says Gossard Holdings marketing manager Angela

Massela. ’What sells a bra to the consumer is putting across the

benefits of quality and fit.’



In September, Gossard is set to launch the Ultrabra Super Boost with a

retail promotion boasting ’Your biggest cleavage ever - or your money

back!’ But while Gossard and its agency Yellow Door are keeping PR plans

under wraps, events are likely to focus on glamour, a cinema advertising

campaign ’too raunchy for TV’ and a new Gossard girl.



Cooper is critical of manufacturers seeking to replicate the success of

the Herzigova factor for Wonderbra - ’they find a B-list celebrity girl,

do a shoot and just hope it runs,’ - but Berlei is certainly getting

mileage out of tennis star Anna Kournikova with its Shock Absorber

sports bra, while Bhs recently linked up with former Gossard girl Sophie

Anderton for its Secret Bra.



Bell Pottinger Good Relations associate director Helen Newey, who headed

the Secret Bra launch team, says the campaign focused on what women

want.



’The product is about discretion,’ she says. ’We carried out research

into UK women’s bra-wearing habits to show that Bhs meets women’s

needs.’ Findings that women put comfort and fit above cleavage was used

in regional radio interviews throughout May and June.



So where does Playtex sit in this flurry of media activity? Last year,

the company launched the Wonderbra Bliss and managing director Dixey

says its Affinity range now has the same market share as the Wonderbra.

But with no new products to sing and dance about, industry insiders

wonder whether the manufacturer is keeping up with the times.



Dixey stresses that his company is spending pounds 5 million on TV

advertising for Affinity in the six months from September, and a further

pounds 1 million on pushing the Wonderbra in the run up to Christmas.

’We’ve moved away from gimicky activities such as PR stunts, which can

become very tiresome,’ he adds.



In addition, Playtex will launch products designed to fit like a second

skin, using hosiery technology, next spring.



In a market that is slick in both retail and consumer awareness stakes,

whoever takes on Playtex’s PR will need to be a fast runner. As Cooper

says: ’I don’t think there are that many agencies around which combine a

fashion and FMCG expertise with the necessity for a tabloid mentality.’



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