What Everlane gets right about marketing to women
Everlane says it underwear has been in high demand:
If Victoria Secret wants you to believe it makes lingerie for perfect angels fallen from heaven, then Everlane is hawking wares for the other 99 percent. The socially-minded company known for its basics, says it has a solution: Cotton underwear that’s designed to be comfortable. The items are promoted on its website with unaltered images of women of different shapes, sizes and colors — with full bellies and stretch marks and cellulite. It’s no secret, advertising professors say, that today’s customer wants more than airbrushed images. Brands like Dove and Nike have found mainstream success — and racked up millions of dollars in sales — with marketing campaigns that challenge traditional beauty ideals.
There has been a slow but steady shift, industry insiders say, toward more realistic advertising as beauty and clothing companies embrace more natural portrayals of women. Companies like Asos and ModCloth have pledged to stop retouching photos, and lingerie brand Aerie says sales have increased by at least 20 percent each year since it stopped airbrushing its ads four years ago. Everlane, experts say, is taking that message a step further with its unapologetic advertising. “You can see stretchmarks on some of these women — stretchmarks!,” said Angeline Close Scheinbaum, an advertising professor at the University of Texas at Austin. “That alone will resonate with millions of women.”
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Consumers are more likely to pay attention to an ad when they can relate to it, Scheinbaum says. For example, “if you’re not in the market for a car, your brain tends to tune out ads about sedans or SUVs,” she said. “Subconsciously, you check out a bit. But when you see someone who looks like you or has your body type, your brain might give it some more thought.”
That is increasingly true of today’s 20-, 30- and 40-somethings, advertising experts say. After all, sales at Victoria’s Secret — a company known for its sexy ads and lingerie-filled fashion shows — have been sloping downward for months. The brand’s sales tumbled 8 percent last year, following a flat performance in 2016. The stock price of its parent company, L Brands, has fallen nearly 60 percent since 2016. Everlane’s marketing campaign for its new underwear line was created in house by a woman-led team. None of the photographs were retouched. (Courtesy of Everlane)
And while Victoria’s Secret “angels” may have attracted customers in the past, today’s shoppers increasingly think of the brand as “forced” and “fake,” according to a Wells Fargo consumer survey. Traditionally, advertisers have leaned on highly polished, idealized images to appeal to people’s aspirations. “This generation is calling BS on traditional labels from all different angles,” said Beth Egan, 52, an advertising professor at Syracuse University. “Whereas my generation and the generation before mine both bought into idealized versions in advertising, these women are saying, ‘I’m going to do me and it’s going to be fabulous.'”
At Everlane, an in-house team of about 15 employees — mostly women — put together the campaign for the underwear line, which launched last Monday. They decided from the beginning that none of the photos would be retouched, not even for the company’s billboards in Los Angeles and New York, said Alexandra Spunt, head of Everlane’s creative team. “For such a long time, the underwear industry has put up this image that in order to be sexy, you can’t be comfortable,” she said. “We wanted to show that that isn’t the case by casting these beautiful, natural, confident women who felt super comfortable in their own skin.”
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But others point out that Everlane’s message isn’t necessarily all-inclusive. Underwear sizes begin at XXS but max out at XL. “At first glance, you look at the ads and say, ‘Oh, they’re using unconventional models. It’s not all bone-thin women with enormous breasts like you might see in a Victoria’s Secret ad,'” said Meenakshi Gigi Durham, a professor at the University of Iowa whose work focuses on media, gender and sexuality. “But then you look closer, and it still all falls within a fairly limited range of bodies.”
Durham also took issue with some of the wording in the company’s ads.
“The language is about comfort and empowerment, but it also continues to emphasize dissatisfaction with things like ‘camel toe,’ which is a term that’s used to embarrass and shame women,” Durham said. “I don’t see this as very non-conformist or resistant. Women are very savvy consumers. and they can see when a corporate marketing campaign is capitalizing on feminist dissent and dissatisfaction with feminist beauty ideals.”
But Spunt of Everlane says demand has been brisk. More than 30,000 people were on a wait list for its cotton underwear ahead of last week’s launch, and she says women in particular seem to have responded to the new ad campaign. (Its men’s underwear line, by comparison, is being promoted by more traditional models who are young, thin and muscular.) “We felt like this was more of a women’s story this time,” Spunt said. “We wanted that to be our focus.”
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