Shawna Olsten has spent the past 10 months working in men’s underwear, and it’s been an eye-opening experience.
The career marketer joined Vancouver-based underwear brand Saxx as vice-president, brand marketing in June, following previous roles with fashion brands including Aritzia, Kit and Ace, and Native Shoes. She was recruited by Saxx CEO Wendy Bennison, with whom she worked at Kit and Ace when Bennison was president.
“She’s just awesome, so when she called, I said ‘For you, maybe [I’ll work in] men’s underwear,'” said Olsten with a laugh.
Still, she acknowledges that it’s a <cough> ballsy move for someone who’s spent most of her career working with female-focused or unisex brands to become lead marketer for a men’s underwear brand. “If I look back on my career and the places I’ve worked, there’s always been a product I can relate to, try and experience, and your personal use starts influencing your work,” said Olsten. “But here that’s just not possible.”
That has led Olsten and her team to adopt a marketing approach that is heavily reliant on insights and data. “I can only tell you what the customer says… I think that sharpening your pencil in that discipline is a pretty good skill to have,” she said.
One of Saxx’s priorities since Olsten’s arrival has been to create psychological profiles of its customers, resulting in five consumer segments developed around metrics like behaviours and motivations. While about one-quarter of Saxx’s customers are women buying underwear for their partner, the brand’s primary shopper is men 25-44.
While those profiles don’t impact how Saxx targets its media, they are useful in developing its creative approach, said Olsten.
A new campaign developed in association with Vancouver’s Kiddo Films focuses on two core segments: men who are interested in innovation and product, prioritizing what a product delivers, and a second that looks to the brand for how it makes them appear to others. “They both have a style thread, but one gains confidence from what others think of them, while the other gains confidence from what they think of themselves,” said Olsten.
Directed by Rob Tarry, a former creative partner at Rethink Vancouver who left the agency to direct full-time, both spots open on men suddenly instilled with a newfound sense of confidence after snapping the waistband of their Saxx into place and experiencing the underwear’s “BallPark Pouch.”
That pouch is a key selling point for Saxx, addressing one of the fundamental problems arising from cheaper underwear: testicles sticking to the legs. It’s a situation that has not only produced a raft of memes, but also discussion in everything from Reddit threads to Cosmo.
In a 30-second spot entitled “Game On” a man confidently strides onto a basketball court for a game of one-on-one. He does some between-the-legs dribbling, spins the ball on his finger and then confidently hoists up… an airball.
A second spot features a man prepping for a job interview, his Saxx underwear providing him with the confidence that he’s going to crush it. He puts on his shirt, fancy socks and a blazer, and then strides out of the door… without any pants.
Both spots feature the tagline “Life changing underwear… for your balls,” which Kiddo co-founder and executive producer/creative director Michael Milardo said is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the brand’s transformative effect on the male undercarriage.
“We felt there was comedy in that,” he said. “These men feel this kind of lift-off, and they’re riding high. Even if they miss that shot, or forget their pants, they still feel like a million bucks.”
After achieving aided awareness in the 30% range in Canada, Saxx is taking another stab at growing its footprint the U.S. market—where its awareness is in the single digits—with this online campaign. “Because the brand was built in Canada and has had the luxury of over 10 years [in market] and being built with really premium retail partners, we have great awareness in Canada,” said Olsten. “The U.S. is really seen as a priority market right now.”
The U.S. strategy will focus on California and Texas, two markets where Saxx has a strong retail presence and ecommerce business. Its partners in those markets include Nordstrom and the outdoor retailer REI. The campaign will also run in Canada, although it won’t debut until early summer, timed to coincide with the back-to-school period, which Olsten said is a key sales occasion for Saxx.
It wasn’t all that long ago that men’s underwear meant buying a three-pack of Jockey or Fruit of the Loom, but with prices ranging from between $28 and $37, Saxx is firmly ensconced in the fast-growing premium space. It recently introduced a premium product called Mega Lux featuring a cashmere blend that sold for $65. It is now sold out.
“Our customers aren’t afraid to pay for nice underwear,” said Olsten. “What we see in the premium underwear category is that guys are trading up from the underwear that hasn’t been delivering for them for so long. It’s a big price jump, but guys didn’t realize there was something better.”
According to research firm Grand View Research, the global men’s underwear market is poised to reach US$42.2 billion by 2025. Millennials are playing a significant role in its growth because of a receptivity to new and different products around colour, fabric, print and style.
“Guys know there’s better underwear out there,” said Olsten.