Some people might feel a little awkward about lingering on a busy mid-town Manhattan street over an advertising poster featuring a male model, clad in nothing but his underwear and a moody pout.
Bur others might not - and fair play to them. Some might even be seduced by those posters into thinking, 'I could wear what he’s wearing, scanning the advert with their smartphone and purchasing their own pair on the spot.
It’s this more daring, impulsive and, dare we say, aspirational class of shopper that men’s fashion brand 2(X)IST - pronounced ‘to exist’ - has been seeking to attract this December, in a campaign that has seen it launch ‘virtual stores’ in nine locations around New York, in the form of advertising billboards tagged with QR codes.
For the more bashful consumer, there’s also the option to buy their new briefs in the relative privacy of the back of a yellow cab, via an audio tag that ‘listens’ to a 60-second 2(X)IST advert running on the in-car screen.
Either way, this code guides the shopper swiftly to a one-click purchase process on their smartphones, once they’ve downloaded the PowaTag app (from the British start-up of the same name), which stores personal information such as delivery address and payment details.
According to Tom Speight, president and CEO of 2(X)IST, it’s part of a wider strategy designed to transform the company into a ‘men’s lifestyle apparel brand’. Launched back in 1991, the company has more recently branched out into swimwear, socks, watches and T-shirts - and some of these, he says, are covered in its in-taxi ads.
But primarily, the company is known for its underwear - and the vast majority of sales today come from wholesale deals with retailers including Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom and Macys. Some 10%, however, comes from direct business-to-consumer sales through its online operations. Here, there could be room to grow, hence the importance of mobile retail. Says Speight:
As distracting as that image might be, diginomica gets Speight’s point: 2(X)IST is actively seeking new retail innovation. As he puts it:
Our target consumer is a millennial guy, aged up to 35, primarily. We know that his mobile device is an extension of himself, so it’s in his hand constantly.
We felt that tagging and one-click purchasing was that next step we needed to make in mobile technology. We’d been talking internally about mobile technology and advancements and we also then received a phone call, a solicitation, from PowaTag themselves, and we took the meeting because we were intrigued. Through the course of dialogue, and doing our own due dilligence, it felt like the right partnership for us.
But, as often in the fashion industry, this project is as much about appearances as it is about cold, hard cash. According to Speight:
We’re viewing this as a test in terms of what will be the reaction to this one-click purchasing on mobile technology for the overall brand. We felt as though it would raise our brand awareness, specifically in New York, where the test is today.
In line with that, the advertising posters - placed on phone kiosks - went live at the beginning of December, while the taxi ads went live on Saturday 13 December, the day after the peak Black Friday shopping frenzy, interestingly, but in plenty of time for ‘Cyber Monday’.
In other words, this is an trial, albeit one that works well with PowaTag’s business model, which is to only charge a retailer each time an order is converted into a sale via its app. Says Speight:
Yes, we were hoping for a revenue pick-up, for sure, but we thought it would be really interesting from a brand-awareness perspective - and an association with us being on the cutting-edge of mobile technology - with that millennial consumer.
When we spoke this week, Speight wasn’t able to quantify exactly what kind of sales the company is seeing as a result of its trial. It’s only after the busy Christmas period that he’ll actually be able to sit down and analyse the results it has reaped. So what might success look like to him?
We’re just looking to create an unparalleled shopping experience with our consumer. We’re not looking for concrete, statistical metrics to measure our success - but we are interested in the buzz, and the press, and the impressions that we’re going to get from all of this, which will help catapult this initiative further.
The company already has ideas about using the technology in print adverts in other major metropolitan areas of the US where its brand finds favour, such as Los Angeles. And PowaTag’s technology can also be embedded into social media and email marketing, so these might also be areas of interest to 2(X)IST in future, says Speight.
And to return, if we might, to the question of customer comfort-levels around scanning adverts, in a public place, of men in their underwear? Speight is circumspect:
Our underwear-specific images are always done to the highest taste level. I don’t think that would be an issue.