Gildan Wants Younger Dudes in its Underpants

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A bare chested man, north of 60, does some light pool work in nothing but his tighty-whities. Another elder gent tiptoes to the kitchen in only his skivvies for a midnight snack. A kindly neighbor stands in his window, coffee cup in hand, surveying the scene in nothing but his underpants.

The scenes are familiar and far from flattering. And that's the point: The images are meant to inspire younger generations of men, eager to not become their fathers, to buy new undies. At least that's what Gildan Activewear is hoping with its new marketing campaign, debuting Monday.

The "Not Your Dad's Underwear" push is designed to build awareness for Gildan, a Canadian brand better known for its 33-year-old wholesale t-shirt business than its nascent underwear brand, launched just four years ago. Gildan is aiming for a larger share of the men's underwear market, which saw about $2.8 billion in U.S. sales for the year ending in February, according to market research firm NPD Group Inc. But that means going head-to-head against the two dominant players Hanesbrands Inc. and Fruit of the Loom, which control the lion's share of the category.

"We are the new brand on the block," said Rob Packard, VP-marketing at Gildan Brand. He noted that Gildan is able to compete with Hanes and Fruit of the Loom on price, which range from $10 to $30 a pack, because its vertically-integrated, easy-to-control factories are newer and more efficient. Men's underwear represents roughly 30% of sales within the Gildan brand.

Newer entrants to the men's underwear market -- like Gildan, which just expanded its base with the January acquisition of bankrupt American Apparel, and Tommy John, a New York-based ecommerce brand that boasts better fit -- may not be taking huge market share away from the larger labels, they are driving change in the industry.

"They've definitely made their mark," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at NPD. "They've captured the younger consumers' mindset and been able to cause the heritage brands to rethink the equation and step up their game." He noted that the behemoth brands have had to become more innovative and functional with their products as a result of the newcomers.

Gildan's new campaign should help to further its image as a new brand alternative. The effort includes three 30-second TV spots, also airing in 15-second versions, that showcase older men in their sagging undergarments. Through research studies, Gildan found that consumers are more likely to try new brands of underwear between the ages of 25 and 35.

"It is your most adventurous time frame before you settle into habits so if you're going to be in the men's underwear business, you have to catch that person's attention while they're in their 20s," said Packard. He noted that the campaign should also translate well into potential marketing for Gildan's women's business.

The new push is Gildan's first work without celebrity Blake Shelton from agency of record O'Keefe Reinhard & Paul. When OKRP first began work on the account last year, they inherited Shelton as spokesman. The campaign will include print advertising as well as a digital component on Tinder where users can swipe right for coupons. Gildan worked with Kelly Scott Madison on media duties.

Last year, Gildan, which generates more than $3.4 billion in annual sales on all its brands, spent $7.2 million on measured media in the U.S.—roughly on par with 2015, according to Kantar Media.

"There's low awareness [around Gildan]—people know it for t-shirts for the 5Ks you do on the weekends or for your kid's hockey game. But as far as underwear goes, as a brand name it doesn't have its own brand name," said Matt Reinhard, chief creative officer at OKRP. "This is an opportunity to get out there and make a bit of a splash."

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