Pretty Polly aims to strip M&S of bra lead

When Sara Lee Corporation’s hosiery chief Brian Duffy discovered he was to launch a range of bras under the Pretty Polly name, the first phone call he made was to Trevor Beattie.

The two men were behind the risqué “Hello Boys” Wonderbra campaign in 1994: Duffy as managing director of Playtex (also owned by Sara Lee) and Beattie as creative director at ad agency TBWA. The campaign united feminists and conservatives in condemnation, and at the same time gave a boost to the career of model Eva Herzigova.

Duffy, now vice-president of Sara Lee’s European hosiery division, has hired Beattie in his latest incarnation as creative director of TBWA GGT Simons Palmer, to launch the new Pretty Polly range with a 6m TV campaign (MW February 25). It is the biggest ad spend on an underwear brand to date, dwarfing the 300,000 Duffy says was spent on launching Wonderbra.

However, the campaign may face a tougher test than that of the Wonderbra posters. It is supporting a range which Duffy hopes will take market share from Marks & Spencer, by far the biggest name in the UK underwear sector.

Branded bra ranges have fought to loosen M&S’ grip on the everyday bra sector with little success. The three biggest brands, Triumph, Gossard, and Playtex, which owns Wonderbra, account for just over a quarter of a market which was worth 524m last year (source: FashionTrak from Taylor Nelson Sofres). Own-label sales, of which M&S is the most significant player, account for over half.

Bra brands have historically targeted the premium market, while everyday purchases have largely been left to the own-label retailers. Pretty Polly, says Duffy, aims to take market share from both.

“We are in the unique position of having a brand which has broad consumer appeal, prices which are premium to own label, but below the majority of brands, and an image which is fun, aspirational and desirable,” says Duffy.

Pretty Polly aims to build on its famous name and offer a complete range of styles and fabrics. Duffy says there will be six or seven collections in a full range of sizes.

The everyday positioning will be supported by TBWA’s campaign. Although the details are being kept under wraps, Duffy reveals the new campaign signals a departure from the usual underwear ads by using “real women” rather than physically-faultless models such as Herzigova. A Fifties technicolour style has been adopted and the campaign will emphasise comfort above all else.

Clearly Duffy is positioning the new range as the premium alternative to M&S. Its comprehensive target market, combined with a price point that will be fixed above M&S but below traditional branded bras, demonstrates the first attempt by a brand to tackle M&S head-on.

Duffy, however, says it is not a crusade against M&S. “We are going after everybody who sells bras. If we gain ten per cent of the market over the next few years and M&S has 50 per cent, then five per cent of our share is liable to come from M&S.”

Yet observers suggest Duffy’s aims are too ambitious. M&S record-ed a 41 per cent share of the bra sector in 1996 (source: Mintel Research) and, despite a bad performance this year, its trusted reputation continues to make it a first choice for everyday purchases. Branded bras, such as Triumph and Gossard, are regarded as luxury buys.

Mark Lund, managing director of agency Delaney Fletcher Bozell, which handles the Triumph account, says: “The last major launch was Wonderbra. It created a huge amount of interest, but sales show it is still not a big brand.”

But thanks to a long-standing relationship with supermarket shoppers through its tights ranges, Pretty Polly could be the one name able to seriously challenge M&S’ traditional customer base.

Karoline Newman, author of the book “Lingerie: A Century of Style”, says: “British women are used to seeing Pretty Polly as an impulse purchase. If its bras become a natural part of shopping as with M&S, then M&S’ share could well be eroded.”

Duffy agrees. He claims that market testing shows broad approval for the product, increasing significantly when potential customers are told the brand is Pretty Polly.

He is also confident that TBWA’s campaign will ensure consumers are well aware of Duffy and Beattie’s latest attempt to reinvent the underwear sector.

“The campaign is high impact and some will say it is controversial. But what is certain is that after the first few nights of the ads, everyone will know that Pretty Polly is in bras,” he says.

The question Duffy will be asking, along with M&S and the branded sector, is whether Pretty Polly has the umbrella brand appeal needed to tempt British women. Lund asks: “What brand values does Pretty Polly have that it can take from hosiery and bring to bras? It is not a market in which transferable brands have thrived.”

The Pretty Polly launch will not be judged solely on whether it inspires the controversy of the Wonderbra ads, but on how close the new brand’s sales come to Duffy’s target of 52m a year.


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