Fruit of the Loom

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Fruit of the Loom, one of the oldest and largest producers of underwear, activewear and casual wear in the U.S., was founded in 1851 in Warwick, R.I., as a single textile mill, B.B.&R. Knight, It adopted the name Fruit of the Loom in 1856.

Fruit of the Loom was acquired by Farley Inc. in 1985 and became a publicly held company in 1987. Today, it is one of the world's largest manufacturers of cotton garments, producing more than 1 billion every year. It sells its products under a number of brand names, including Fruit of the Loom, BVD, Screen Stars, Best, Munsingwear, Wilson and Gitano. The company distributes its products through more than 10,000 retailers, mainly in the U.S., but also in Europe, Canada, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Mexico.

The brand mark for Fruit of the Loom—the cluster of grapes, gooseberries and an apple—is one of the oldest and best-recognized trademarks in the U.S. It was first registered in August 1871, just one year after Congress passed the first trademark law. The early labels, starting with a lone apple, were based on pictures painted by a young artist identified only as "Miss Skeel." The drawings were expanded to include grapes, pears and cherries, evolving into the company's familiar trademark.

"Fruit of the Loom Guys"

Fruit of the Loom also used brand characters as centerpieces of its advertising. It was not until 1975, however, that the "Fruit of the Loom Guys" were developed to emphasize the quality and comfort of Fruit of the Loom's men's underwear.

The company placed considerable emphasis on its marketing programs, ranging from conventional advertising to sports and music-festival sponsorships. All promotion campaigns focused on a single theme: the quality and consistency of the products. Fruit of the Loom also was innovative in leveraging its relationships with suppliers and retailers-for example, helping them set up Web sites using Fruit of the Loom electronic catalog tools and inventory management software.

The onetime market leader fell on hard times in the 1990s. Fruit of the Loom's troubles began in 1993 when it added too much manufacturing capacity. The company then cut back on production just as consumer spending rebounded. In 1995, it posted operating losses and was forced to close 13 of its U.S.-based manufacturing facilities. In 1998, Fortune ranked Fruit of the Loom lowest in the apparel industry, and the company dropped to No. 5 in terms of market share.

In an attempt to reduce its tax burden and become more competitive with designers such as Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger, Fruit of the Loom moved its headquarters to the Cayman Islands in 1998. In addition to cutting costs, the company placed a renewed emphasis on advertising and marketing to help bolster its position.

Given the company's long history as an American manufacturer and marketer and its long relationship with the Grey Advertising Agency, dating to the 1930s, it is somewhat surprising that one of its most successful ad campaigns, the award-winning "Clothesline" campaign, was developed by Leo Burnett Co.'s Toronto office. In 1996, "Clothesline" helped Burnett win the title of global agency of the year at the New York Festivals TV Advertising Awards. The campaign also won the Billi Award, given by the Outdoor Advertising Assn. of Canada.

Initially designed for the Canadian market, the campaign featured six commercials. Each spot showed women's panties bobbing along a clothesline. Viewers first saw a series of colorful, novelty underwear, some with tassels, animal prints and lace, but all clearly uncomfortable to wear. These items were followed by a single pair of white, 100% cotton Fruit of the Loom briefs accompanied by the tagline, "Fruit of the Loom. Really, really comfortable underwear."

As a result of the ads' success, Fruit of the Loom began running the Canadian ads in the U.S. In 1993, the company moved its account from Grey to Burnett to consolidate its North American and European advertising.

In October 1997, Burnett resigned the account, stating that it no longer saw eye-to-eye with the client on its ad strategy, which the company wanted to be more image-based.

In 1998, Fruit of the Loom hired Warwick Baker O'Neill, New York. Fruit of the Loom increased ad spending by 30% to 40%, for a total budget of $33 million. The increased spending on advertising was accompanied by greater use of end-of-aisle displays and the creation of "stores within stores" to improve merchandising.

Corporate repositioning

At the outset of the 21st century, the company was repositioning itself as an apparel company rather than an underwear company. More than half its sales were in apparel. But the company hit on hard times, in large part because of its failure to reach out to women with its marketing efforts, among them a 1999 campaign dubbed "Everybody Loves Fruit." Fruit of the Loom filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 1999, and sales dropped by double-digit percentages in 2000 and again in 2001.

In 2002, following the sale of the brand to Berkshire Hathaway, Fruit of the Loom brought back the "Fruit of the Loom Guys" in new humorous TV commercials from Dallas-based agency the Richards Group that poked fun at the original characters. The campaign marked a significant increase in media spending for the brand to roughly $20 million after years of having cut back drastically.

In 2003, the "Fruit of the Loom Guys" became "Las Frutas" in the company’s first U.S. Hispanic ad effort. The Spanish-language spots, from agency Grupo Gallegos, Long Beach, Calif., featured Hispanic actors to play the apple, leaf and grape characters from the general-market campaign.

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