No secret: This Playtex product does for panties what control-top pantyhose did for hosiery. The problem with the Maidenform spot: The dream-come-true isn't physique related. A LEAST IT'S ALL OUT THERE FOR ALL TO SEE

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There was a time when underwear advertising was quite circumspect, when grown men dressed up as fruits of the loom and Jane Russell talking about "full-figured girls" was dancing right on the edge. Those days, to understate the case somewhat, are past.

This is an era when you can actually display large close-ups of underwear-clad groins, albeit only in certain extremely discreet locations-such as every bus in New York. Where once advertisers strained to protect the sensibilities of a demure public, Calvin Klein won't even run an ad photo if he isn't reasonably certain the act being photographed is a felony in Alabama.

Not every advertiser, of course, feels the need to be shocking or explicit. But, as a quick survey of the category shows quite plainly, we've come a long way since you could make a person blush by the simple mention of Playtex Living Bra.

Maidenform. Ogilvy & Mather, New York. The fantasy campaign mutates yet again in a pair of spots that could be titled, "I dreamed I was a nonsequitur in my Maidenform bra." Two spots, filmed for some reason in black & white, show how the protagonists' bras figures in amazing, Walter Mittyesque brushes with fame.

In both cases, however, the answer is that the bra doesn't figure in, not even remotely. We barely see the bra itself. We get virtually no look at the clothed bosoms in question, to see if the women are particularly favored by the Maidenform foundation.

In neither storyline-one involving a fancifully fateful PTA meeting and the other a late-night TV gig-is the dream-come-true at all physique related.

This is an attempt, it appears, to be whimsically hyperbolic. But, alas, it is a bust. 1 1/2 stars.

Calvin Klein. In-house. Calvin, of course, seems to delight in shocking our sensibilities-or, at least, in being notorious for shocking our sensibilities. We can only speculate what Brooke Shields meant when she said "Nothing comes between me and my Calvins," but more than a decade of subsequent ad sexploits has left little to our imaginations: a blue-tinted menage a trois, an autoerotic shower scene and more views of Marky Mark's pectorals than NASA has of Saturn.

So this latest-a one-man Wet Briefs Contest, featuring a relief map of a famous-name body part-is hardly unexpected. Unnecessary, unseemly, yes, but hardly unexpected. Considering the source, however, let's just be grateful the only thing aroused here is the consumer's ire. 1 star

Playtex Secrets. Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, New York. So these panties have a front panel of Spandex to control tummy bulge, and we visit a series of svelte models who theoretically are trying to keep us from divulging their secret as they do the typical, unprovoked 360-degree spins.

Hey, let's face reality. These women may have a secret, but civil-engineered knickers have nothing to do with it. They are skinny freaks of nature.

On the other hand, this spot shows the underwear-quite pretty-and explains what its particular benefit is. This does for panties what control-top pantyhose did for hosiery, and the market will take notice. 3 stars.

Hanes His Way. Long Haymes Carr Lintas, Winston-Salem, N.C. The nominal unique selling point here is "cool comfort" briefs, with a multiperforated delta panel "to keep you cooler all day long." This, we believe, is gilding the lily.

While we have no actual data, but based on years of experience in having a groin, it is our conviction that crotch overheating is not a major consumer problem, at least not in the sense of overheating that Hanes is talking about. We also question what effect this novel venting design will have, considering that men's underwear is traditionally worn underneath trousers-most of which, at this writing, are not equipped with flow-through ventilation themselves, defeating the function of Hanes' innovation. There are only two men in America who would benefit from "cool comfort" briefs, and Calvin Klein has already used them.

On the other hand, the rest of this ad is handsome and bouncy and generally a plus for brand awareness and cachet. 2 1/2 stars.

Wonderbra. TBWA Advertising, New York. This entire campaign-indeed, the product itself-is premised on the notion that neither feminist awareness, nor political correctness nor the infuriating idea of women's self-esteem hinging on male preoccupation with breasts-is as powerful as the desire for cleavage. In many quarters breast envy is regarded as tragically superficial, as self-defeating, as anathema. To Wonderbra it is opportunity.

While Maidenform of all brands pretends that the customer's figure is practically irrelevent to the product, Wonderbra goes right to the heart of consumer desire. Whether it caters to PC backlash or, excuse the expression, pent-up demand, the push-up bra of the '90s is a marketing masterstroke. 3 1/2 stars.

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