CLOSE-UP: LIVE ISSUE/BRA ADVERTISING - The Gossard switch that sparked another bra war. A bra account can provide plenty of exposure for an agency, Jenny Watts writes

From scientists examining the dynamics behind the phenomenon of

uplift to pouting beauties frolicking in haybeds, the history of the

cleavage boost has taken many turns since Trevor Beattie's infamous

"Hello Boys" strapline.



Bra wars are still raging on the nation's high streets, and the stakes

are becoming higher as improved own-label offerings present more of a

challenge.



And for agencies, scoring a bra account is seen as a prestigious

creative prize. Which means that Partners BDDH can't have been best

pleased when TBWA/London stealthily slipped in and grabbed its Gossard

account less than five months after it had been appointed to the

business and shortly before its first work broke.



The bra market has consolidated since Sara Lee, the US company that

makes Wonderbra, bought Courtaulds Textiles, the owner of Gossard, in a

£150 million deal in March 2000. Gossard's chief executive, Brian

Duffy, worked on the famous Eva Herzigova Wonderbra relaunch in the

early 90s alongside Beattie and, with such a history behind them, it's

not that surprising that Duffy should move the business to TBWA.



But why did Gossard decide to call it quits with Partners BDDH after

such a short union? Duffy says he switched his allegiances based on his

history with Beattie and TBWA. "I appointed TBWA because of Trevor and

the huge success we've had in the past. It's a tried-and-tested

formula," he says.



So why didn't he appoint TBWA five months ago, when Abbott Mead Vickers

BBDO lost the business? One theory is that Duffy feared that TBWA's

links with the risque French Connection advertising would put stockists

off Gossard. Duffy's explanation is woolly: "We'd just taken over

Courtaulds.



We were looking at doing something different. As we formulated our ideas

on what we were looking for, it should have been clearer to me earlier

that it was a job for Trevor and the boys."



Beattie and his TBWA team have extensive experience on Sara Lee

Courtaulds brands, which include Playtex, Wonderbra, Gossard, Berlei and

Pretty Polly.



According to Duffy, Playtex holds the largest share of the market,

although it is Gossard - which, with Berlei, owns only 3 per cent of the

market - that has the biggest potential. "Gossard is sexy, feminine,

fashionable and modern," he says. "It's everything you define as sexy.

It will be the dominant UK brand. The tone of voice we exploited in the

Wonderbra, if the truth be known, belongs to Gossard."



If this is the case, and he's going to reclaim that place in the market

for Gossard, where does that leave Wonderbra? "We operate in

complementary positions," Duffy comments. "And as our brands make up 25

per cent of the market, we've still got plenty to play for."



Despite the loss of the business, Partners BDDH will still launch the

Gossard Superboost with its first work breaking on 1 November.

"Superboost is about trying to position Gossard as the brand for girls

who know themselves," Nick Sykes, the head of development at Partners

BDDH, says.



This, of course, is a strategy that agencies have been using for some

time. AMV held the Gossard account for eight years, during which time it

produced some provocative work for the brand. Last October it was

ordered by the Advertising Standards Authority to pull down two posters

from its G-Spot campaign after 37 complaints were upheld. One read

"Bring him to his knees" and the other "If he's late, you can always

start without him".



Gossard's defence of the campaign was to say it was aimed at "liberated

women with a wicked sense of humour", but then the company is no

stranger to the ASA. A poster for its Glossies range in 1996 featuring a

brunette reclining on a bed of hay with the strapline "Who said a woman

can't get pleasure from something soft" attracted 321 complaints.



The competition also tried to create a splash. Pretty Polly employed

shock tactics of a different sort through TBWA with spoof TV ads

featuring scientists examining the dynamics of bras.



Meanwhile, Triumph shunned the shock strategy. Tara Marus, a board

director at BJK&E who works on the Triumph account, says the tactic for

the Bijou bra was to do the opposite of what Beattie had done with the

Wonderbra.



"Unlike Wonderbra, the mentality of Triumph is women talking to women,"

she explains.



While Beattie would doubtless argue that he was employing the same

strategy, Marus also points out that Triumph was the first to celebrate

bigger-breasted women with its Flaunt bra. "We used the reverse of the

Wonderbra phenomenon with Kelly Brook," she says. And then Trina the

cyber model made an appearance.



"You can spend your whole budget on the person who is wearing the

product," Marus says. "So we broke with convention."



Back in the provocative stable, Pretty Polly launched its "Almost Naked"

range through TBWA a year ago in a campaign which used straplines such

as "Go on, treat yourself". But is the play on female masturbation

becoming just as passe as the headline-grabbing work that preceded it?

It's got to the point where there's nothing less shocking than a shock

tactic.



Duffy, while reluctant to divulge any clues about future strategies,

agrees it's time for the market to move forward: "Wonderbra

revolutionised advertising in the UK. It was a liberalisation for women.

Before, bra advertising was almost offending women by being so discreet

and politically correct."



Still, the war will rage on using product innovation. "The Wonderbra was

designed for women to attract boys, but women tell me it's an

uncomfortable product. The Superboost is designed to be more wearable

every day than the old shelf-wobbler," Sykes says.



And with companies such as Marks & Spencer breaking with convention and

exploring more provocative and colourful ranges such as its much hyped

Salon Rose line from Agent Provocateur, the growth of own-label brands

may threaten to shrink the market.



The past six months have seen other entrants that could pose a threat to

the established players. Elle MacPherson's Intimates range is about to

hit stores nationwide, following on from its success in Australia.



And the pop queen Kylie Minogue has launched the Love Kylie

collection.



Still, the greatest challenge facing established bra brands is dealing

with an increasingly shock-resistant audience. It seems the task that

faces TBWA is how to create brand values without using provocative

tactics.



"There's probably now a different way to reflect bra advertising in

terms of contemporary women," Duffy says. This will clearly be the

charge for TBWA.



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