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
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
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
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
’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
’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.’