Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY
Watch out Victoria's Secret, here comes ... Playtex?
No, the Victoria's Secret models won't have to watch their backs, but Playtex, the bra line that many gals associate with their mothers - or grandmothers - is trying to break out of its stereotype as a bra that scores a 10 in support, but a zero in fashion.
Playtex on Tuesday will announce a more contemporary line of bra styles and colors - even one that's a very un-Playtex-like bright red - and plans to roll out a $10 million ad campaign to crow about it.
The nation's 36 million female Millennials are turning the struggling $5.4 billion bra market inside out. They're the only segment with double-digit sales growth, reports research firm NPD Group.
Fuddy-duddy bras won't cut it with Millennials. But, in a plus for Playtex, they may be a bit bustier than the generation before them. Sales of the larger bra band sizes 44 to 50 jumped 17% from 2011 to 2012, and sales of D-cup and Double-D grew 2% in the same period, reports NPD.
To win over any of this younger market, the 80-year-old brand, which saw sales drop 3% last year - more than the industry's decline of 2% - must not look and act its age. That won't be easy for the brand that was the very first bra to advertise on TV way back in 1954.
"In lingerie you need allure," says Marian Salzman, the trend spotter. "How are they going to put sexy into utility?"
One step at a time. Even the models featured in the new Playtex ads are about a decade younger than those in past TV spots. Old ads: 35- to 40-year-olds. New ads: 25- to 30-year-olds.
The color palette is about to brighten up, too. Old bras: three to four colors. New bras: 10 colors - including Persian Red and, yes, Private Jet Grey.
"It's fair to say there are people who think of Playtex as a brand their mother wore," says Tricia Bouras, marketing director of Playtex Bras. "We're trying to demonstrate that while we're still that brand, we now have the style you're expecting."
It's been a long time since Playtex made waves. But back in 1985, it was the first lingerie maker to air a TV spot showing a bra-wearing live model - from the waist up. This is the same brand that became part of pop culture and late-night jokes with bra lines dubbed: Living Bra, Cross Your Heart Bra and 18 Hour Bra.
Now, Playtex hopes to get the last laugh. "There's a general perception that support bras won't be the prettiest in the world," says Howard Upchurch, president of innerware at HanesBrands, which owns the Playtex bra brand. "We've dialed up color and style."
But Salzman, the trend spotter, is skeptical. "They are competing in a category where everyone else is selling desire," she says. "What Playtex is selling still feels functional - kind of like going from selling soup to beef stew."