How do consumers really feel about their panty purchases? Is it a different feeling than their lingerie purchases? Fruit of the Loom is betting many women won't know the difference.
Früt is presented as the newest upscale lingerie retail boutique to open up in New York, but you're not actually buying upscale designer lingerie when you shop there. Everything you buy in the store is actually rebranded (or de-branded) Fruit of the Loom underwear instead.
Adweek notes that the agency switcheroo seems to be paying off, too: "the brand gets its point across efficiently -- underwear snobs don't know what they're missing, and they're paying more for the 'privilege.'"
The official website lists some of the commentary from women who fell for the ruse. Audry P. said she was "shocked Fruit of the Loom had that kind of variety." Actual (former) Victoria's Secret Angel, Lindsay Ellingson, commented that "[t]he quality is really amazing. You convinced me. I'm sold."
Source: Fruit of the Loom, "Früt - Unpackaged"
Fruit of the Loom is making a terribly effective point by raising a common question for American women everywhere: why can't you buy underwear that is both high quality and comfort at a lower cost than more expensive retailers or smaller designer boutiques?
Do women really pay more for 'shopping privileges' at lingerie retailers? Let's look at various underwear sales the same way consumers might see them:
Personally, I'm a Victoria's Secret (VS) loyalist through-and-through. I have the Angel Forever credit card, which is exactly the kind of pay-to-play brand loyalty Ketchum wants to criticize with their Früt campaign on behalf of Fruit of the Loom.
Victoria's Secret isn't the only retailer taking a stab at the more-for-less approach to convincing consumers to buy underwear in bigger groups instead of a single pair here and there. VS offers a standard deal of 5 pairs of panties for $27.50. Because they're the biggest underwear retailer, we'll use their pricing as a benchmark. End cost: $5.50/panty.
Aerie offers an every day deal of 7 pairs for the same cost, $27.50. It's also worth nothing that the AEREWARDS program applies to both American Eagle Outfitters' standard clothing line as well as the Aerie underwear line designed for women. Because the Aerie promotion includes two extra pairs for the same dollar amount, it works out to be the cheaper offer. End cost: $3.93/panty.
American Eagle's decision to tie Aerie to their standard clothing rewards program actually allows them to offer Aerie customers very similar reward structures to the VS Angels card, too.
While Victoria's Secret does offer other apparel items aside from lingerie, their primary messaging continues to focus on lingerie and swimwear, though sportwear/athleisure has gotten a more recent bump, too.
With this general understanding of the lingerie retailer landscape in mind, let's take a look at social data to contrast how these retailers' consumers talk about their own purchases online.
While Victoria's Secret has lost some credibility in recent years, they remain the lingerie retailer to beat according to social media intelligence.
When my friends and I talk about buying underwear, somebody inevitably talks about each of the brands we've compared so far today. It's no small feat just to have your name mentioned in a conversation about lingerie, especially if you're any other brand besides Victoria's Secret.
We compared the normalized post volume for each lingerie brand over the last five years and plotted the average growth of social traffic using dotted lines. While each brand demonstrates some margin of measurable growth, only Victoria's Secret shows long-term increases in social traffic we would call 'strong' with any degree of confidence.
While Fruit of the Loom showed some significant gains in post sentiment and consumer favorability over the last five years, for every individual mention of their rand, positive or negative, Victoria's Secret was racking up 27 more. This is modern retail warfare, messaging through any means necessary to squash everyone else out of the conversation.
Amazon deployed a similar strategy in the early days -- lose money on individual items but make up the difference in bulk volume increases of items sold. Victoria's Secret's sales strategy promises the same outcome.
Instead of losing on individual items, though, the bargain of 'more-for-less' offers to give consumers the feeling they're shopping smarter; why buy one pair when you could buy five, the formula asks.
To the women buying panties in bulk, it's a simple evaluation of opportunity cost. I should do this now because it's going to be more expensive later.
Meanwhile, time ticks on to the next panty party sale.
People tend to love sales, too, as I mentioned earlier.
The post frequency for 'Victoria's Secret' spikes with such clockwork regularity around every holiday season that every other competing brand should try to shamelessly copy their messaging strategy.
Without a doubt, their consistent sale timing has created a pattern of behavior, especially across younger, more social-media-friendly age groups. Social data shows that women from 13-35 flock to Victoria's Secret, while women 35-44 tend to mention Fruit of the Loom most frequently, and women 45 or older generally talk about Aerie most often.
It's easier to see that Fruit of the Loom looks like a legacy of an older generation when you look at the consumer preference charted out like this. Millennial women flock to VS above their other options, though Aerie and VS are in a virtual dead heat among women aged 25-44.
However, the relationships between panty preferences among demographic divisions are spelled out most clearly when looking at the social data together:
- Women 13-25 prefer Victoria's Secret underwear over Aerie and Fruit of the Loom by similar margins,
- As female respondents age increases after age 19, so does their mention rate for Fruit of the Loom until it becomes the dominant brand among women 35-44, and
- Women 45 or older seem to marginally prefer Aerie over Fruit of the Loom, though that preference seems to become less distinct as participant age increases.
Women who talk about buying underwear from Aerie or Victoria's Secret are excited about colors, styles, and different patterns to match their individual preferences. After looking at the social data, however, it's fairly evident where the problem is -- Fruit of the Loom's one-size-fits-all-pricing message doesn't match their target audience's actual buying preferences.
Fruit of the Loom's problems go much deeper than their name.
While Fruit of the Loom's mock-up lingerie boutique aimed to correct a few of these perceptions, there are some notable problems with their product lineup that will prevent them from attracting any meaningful contingent of long-time Victoria's Secret or Aerie converts:
- Most women want options and choices. Fruit of the Loom should diversify its product offerings away from its basics-only approach like boyshorts, hipsters, and bikini briefs to attract women who prefer other styles -- like thongs, for example. Missing products people will buy, even on a limited basis, is an obviously missed opportunity (seriously -- they aren't mentioned on the Fruit of the Loom product website at all, and a search turns up zero results).
Even having limited offerings in these areas would allow Fruit of the Loom to gauge the digital perception of these product lines when placed up against one another, but lacking any of these offerings online means they don't even have the tools in place to make those judgments. By contrast, even a cursory look at the Victoria's Secret website or social feeds makes it clear they offer a much wider range of options.
- 'Panty party' loyalists ARE already paying more-per-panty, which means they must care about things other than cost. Fruit of the Loom's message was clever, but still failed to gain any long-term traction on social media. It didn't address the reason women aren't already shopping for Fruit of the Loom the same way they are other brands.
Women especially are already accustomed to the sale prices and everyday offers at more upscale lingerie retailers. Women with a favorite panty brand are going to want a compelling reason to switch, and if cost obviously isn't -- and likely won't be -- a convincing-enough argument to force a switch, brands like Fruit of the Loom will definitely need to speak their language.
- If you're going to hit the #Queen, you'd better make sure she doesn't get back up.
Victoria's Secret is in complete control of the retail lingerie game. The brand is already adeptly navigating the social media pipeline and marketing message funnel that will score prime placement of subtle, targeted ads and sale offers to these younger buyers for decades, given the demographic data we've uncovered.
Forget about Twitter and Facebook, Victoria's Secret is going after your Snapchat, your Instagram, and engaging buyers everywhere else they know they're going to be. Many women who fall in love with VS, as early as age 13, will continue to talk about being brand loyalists into their 40s. A period of time spanning this length is bordering on lifelong customer status.
All this being said, I don't envy the marketing team that tries to break the vice grip Victoria's Secret has on lingerie retailing. If there's any opportunity to do so, it's available for any brand who can understand how to skillfully use social data to chip away at their competition's lead and safeguard their own brand's perception against their future mistakes.
This comparison is limited to the brands that come up most frequently when talking about underwear preferences with my own friends.
I suspect, however, due to the overwhelming margin of difference between Victoria's Secret's branded social volume and its nearest competitor, that the story would generally be the same with some slightly nuanced differences, no matter which brands or how many others we added to the mix, which is the real take-away message for brands.
Also, don't forget to check out our 5-year thematic analysis dashboard for purchase intent of top underwear brands. For your convenience, I added a button for that immediately below this post.
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