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Comfort Virally

By May 01, 2008

Social media campaigns have been used to fight every scourge from global warming to genocide in Darfur. But let’s face it: Some problems strike closer to home … much, much closer, in fact.

Underwear maker Hanes is betting that men and women will identify with and take comfort from two interactive campaigns centered on underpants that don’t ride up. Both efforts use Web video, celebrities and humor to engage their target audiences. And taken together, they suggest an interesting contrast in the way interactive elements can be used to capture the interest of male and female consumers.

The initiative aimed at women is tied to a specific new product rollout, a line of No Ride Up panties in the Hanes Comfort Fit collection. It explicitly sets out to point out and solve a problem that, according to Hanes, many women have but few acknowledge: the dread wedgie, a/k/a the “Melvin” or “hinder binder.” The campaign shows several videos of actress Sarah Chalke doing entertainingly indiscreet calisthenics to shake out her secret underwear woes.

Two of the videos on the campaign’s microsite, www.wedgiefree.com, are actually TV spots. The first debuted March 11 on “American Idol.” But they’re joined by a made-for-video clip called “Sarah’s Wedgie Dance” that has already garnered 500,000 views on YouTube, where Hanes posted a roadblock ad to coincide with the TV launch and where it also maintains a branded channel. The Wedgiefree.com microsite also offers a “filming of” a video clip that shows outtakes and gags from the Chalke ads.

While humor may drive visits to the site, community is intended to keep them coming back. The site lets visitors submit their own stories of unfortunate wedgies. They can read others’ tales of woe and rate them using an interactive five-point Blush-O-Meter; the more embarrassing the wedgie story, the redder a cartoon icon gets and the more dire the background soundtrack.

Visitors can also register and return weekly for “Wedgie-Free Wednesdays,” with a chance to win one of 500 free pairs of panties the company is giving away each week throughout the year. They can also send e-cards to their friends inviting them to the site — mailed every Wednesday.

The Wedgiefree site is part of an integrated campaign that will also include print ads featuring Chalke in women’s fashion and lifestyle magazines through the year. All the TV and print advertising directs consumers to the microsite.

Hanes brand communications director David Robertson says that thanks to consumer research, the company has known for some time that panty creep is the biggest comfort issue in its women’s apparel category. Having designed underwear to combat the problem, Hanes was then faced with the issue of getting women to acknowledge it.

“Having this problem is not just about physical discomfort; it’s also about that risk of social discomfort,” Robertson says. “We felt it would be important to talk about the issue in a way that was light hearted and engaging, to defuse the embarrassment.”

The campaign was the first one from Hanes to break online and offline simultaneously. “We wanted an idea that would work across media channels,” Robertson says. “Our consumer watches TV, but she also spends a lot of time on the Web — not just shopping but using it as a communication tool.”

If the humor is mixed with discretion at Wedgiefree.com, it’s served pretty straight up at www.DavesDetours.com, a site launched for the men’s division of Hanes by the nGage agency. There “average guy” Dave Picard — who looks more interested in giving wedgies than in resolving them — challenges celebrities like Nelly, Ultimate Fighting champ Chuck Liddell and New Orleans Saints running back Reggie Bush to feats of strength or dexterity.

The site relies as much on video and community as the Wedgiefree.com site, but with some significant differences. For one thing, the videos are rougher, more YouTube than Madison Avenue, and resemble red-carpet ambush videos catching the celebrities off guard. (One of the more popular clips shows Picard being completely ignored by Paris Hilton.) The videos take place in front of a Hanes backdrop, but other than that they’re pretty lightly branded. Most simply end with Picard stressing that he was “competing in comfort.”

Registered users can add comments to the videos of Picard’s celebrity challenge. Many of these are along the lines of the one-word reaction to Dave’s Hula-Hoop challenge against the Deal or No Deal girls: “Hotties!!!”

“We wanted the consumer to come away with the notion that Hanes understands guys,” says Dan Curran, CEO of nGage, the agency behind the “Dave’s Detours” site. “Guys generally interface more with shared video, and certainly in the sports category. Women tend to be researching more on the Web; guys tend to be looking for entertainment.”lP

For more articles on interactive marketing go to www.promomagazine.com/retail