<%@ Language=VBScript %> <% CheckState() CheckSub() %> The Wonderbra - How Thinking Big Ensured the Survival of the Fittest

IPA Effectiveness Awards


Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, 44 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QS, UK
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Agency: TBWA Author: Susanna Hailstone

The Wonderbra - How thinking big ensured the survival of the fittest



This is the story of 'Bra Wars', a phrase coined by the press to sum up the recent high profile battle for the Great British Cleavage.

There are two main protagonists – the Playtex Wonderbra and its arch rival the Gossard Ultrabra. And whilst 'Bra Wars' is still raging, we will show two things:

Firstly, how advertising on a very limited scale for the Playtex Wonderbra sparked a public debate of unprecedented proportions, proving that you don't need to be new to be newsworthy.

Secondly, how at a time of serious threat and competition, advertising for the Playtex Wonderbra not only protected volume and distribution but also achieved substantial incremental sales.

But before discussing the rationale behind the Wonderbra advertising, and what it has so far achieved, it is important to understand the history behind the War itself.



Canadelle, a leading Canadian lingerie manufacturer, designed and patented a revolutionary new push-up plunge bra, the Wonderbra. It was so called because, through intricate engineering and 44 vital components, it created a fabulous cleavage where nature had neglected to do so.


Canadelle gave the UK licence for the Wonderbra to Courtaulds Textiles, who manufactured and distributed the bra through their subsidiary, Gossard.


After 23 years, the Gossard Wonderbra had sold a steady but uninspiring 11 million units in the UK (on average 50 million bras per year are sold in this country. Source: trade estimates). The main reasons for this were:


The situation changed dramatically, with the 28-year-old Wonderbra set to become the 'essential' fashion accessory through an unforeseen chain of events:

The fashionable image of woman changed from the lean, hungry look to one of voluptuous womanly curves, and clothes were now being designed with bosoms very much in mind:

A quick flip through Vogue will leave you in no doubt that visible cleavages are back in fashion.


The Wonderbra was quickly rediscovered by the less well-endowed fashion cognoscenti as an inexpensive and less painful alternative to cosmetic surgery, and Wonderbras were once again being worn with pride:

The way to be in on the breast front is to stick them out in a Wonderbra.

Sunday Times

By the end of 1992, Gossard was producing an unprecedented 20,000 units a week for the UK and export markets.

Wonderbra is being worn, nay flaunted, everywhere.



In 1993, over 900,000 Gossard Wonderbras were sold in the UK, and the Sara Lee Corporation, who by now owned Canadelle, retrieved the Wonderbra licence from Gossard and Courtaulds Textiles. The licence was then given to Playtex, another leading lingerie manufacturer, whom Sara Lee had bought at the end of 1992.

As of January 1st 1994 the Gossard Wonderbra would cease to be, and the Playtex Wonderbra would exist in its place. Gossard responded by developing the virtually identical Gossard Ultrabra, which would also come into existence on January 1st.


At the beginning of 1994, the Playtex Wonderbra was potentially the loser, with the Gossard Ultrabra poised to win before the battle had even begun.

British women tended to buy bras not brands. This was due to:

However, thanks largely to its recent success with the Wonderbra, Gossard had become a very high profile brand amongst women, with a very strong fashionable image (source: TBWA qualitative).

Playtex on the other hand, whilst being a major player, had no history or credibility at the fashionable end of the UK lingerie market, as its heritage and strength was in the more functional, practical sector. Playtex was regarded by women as the 'no nonsense' brand which made good quality 'serviceable' garments for the more mature woman, ie 'bras my mother wore'. (Source: TBWA qualitative.)

Whilst there was considerable interest in the Wonderbra licence changeover amongst the media and the trade, the Gossard Ultrabra was seen as the real, more exciting story as it was to all intents a new product, whereas the Playtex Wonderbra was largely the same as it had always been:

The Cup Final – Ultrabra [performance] beats Wonderbra.

The Sun

This was despite the fact that both products were virtually identical in their design and performance, which was a problem in itself:

Customers may have problems working out the difference between the two products.

The Observer

This product similarity added to the potential confusion surrounding the change in ownership of the Wonderbra. The Wonderbra was known amongst women and the industry as the Gossard Wonderbra, but whilst the Wonderbra still existed, Gossard – with their high profile sexy image – were now making the Ultrabra.


At the time of its relaunch, Wonderbra was in great danger of being seen as 'old hat' with the new Ultrabra set to steal the show, the attention and the sales. Not only did Gossard have the more sexy image, it also had the essential support of the trade and the media.

With the media, the Gossard Ultrabra was new and exciting and therefore newsworthy. With the trade, Gossard was a major fashion brand which deserved a high-profile in-store presence and was found in the sexier outlets.

Furthermore, there was the additional threat of confusion. Women, retailers and journalists were used to the Gossard Wonderbra. Now the Wonderbra was to be made by Playtex and Gossard would have the Ultrabra, and the products were virtually identical.

Given this situation it seemed optimistic to hope that the Wonderbra could maintain sales at its previous, highly successful level. In fact, such was the threat of the competitive product launch, there was real concern that the Wonderbra's share of the push-up bra market could drop from virtually 100% to as little as 50%.

And whilst the complete marketing mix would prove invaluable to the successful relaunch of the Wonderbra under the Playtex banner, there was one element which could make that vital difference.


In a highly competitive and potentially confusing market, advertising held the key to the success of the Wonderbra:

However, more specifically, there was one immediate and fundamental objective for the Wonderbra campaign, against which it would be judged, and that was the generation of publicity and the domination of the media by the advertising itself.

The relevance and importance of this is clear. Firstly, the media had virtually single-handedly rediscovered and revitalised the Wonderbra's flagging fortunes, aided by only minimal advertising support (see Figure 2) in 1992/1993, so its power and effect on the behaviour of women was proven. Secondly, the Wonderbra's advertising budget was still severely limited – a total of �330,000 to a spend from February through to June – and therefore needed to be made to look much bigger and prove more effective with the help of publicity.

Summary – advertising objective

Ultimately, the objective was to at least maintain sales of the Wonderbra with the aid of advertising and the extensive publicity it would generate.

This meant that whilst the Wonderbra needed a high profile and newsworthy advertising vehicle, it was essential that it was not an irrelevant 'shock value' campaign that was rejected by women and banned by the authorities the moment it hit the streets.

The creative work, therefore, needed to strike the right balance between its appeal to the media and its appeal to women:

Diagram 1


In order to strike the right balance, and produce the most influential creative work, information was primarily gleaned from two sources, and the learning from this was used for the thinking behind and the development of the Wonderbra advertising.

What follows is a summary of this learning and its relevance to the creative work subsequently developed.

Who was the 'Wonderbra Woman'?

Talking to the right woman in the right way was essential. The most important finding was her self-confidence and the fact that she was unashamed and unafraid of her sexuality. She was a powerful, image-conscious woman, in control of her life and angered by advertising which did not reflect that. She enjoyed 'looking good' and was a great believer in 'if you've got it, flaunt it'. She could just as easily be an 18-year-old raver as a 40-year-old mother-of-two; age was unimportant.

She was a liberated 'post feminist' who liked to demonstrate, and even exploit, her sexuality, and was certainly no shrinking violet.

What was the Wonderbra's appeal?

The message that women were given by the fashion and mainstream press in 1992/1993 was the message that worked, and the future success of the Wonderbra meant building on that message.

Unlike ordinary bras, women were not interested in whether or not the Wonderbra was pretty, good quality or comfortable to wear. They were only interested in the unique physical and emotional benefits that it offered:

Diagram 2

The secret of the Wonderbra was that rather than simply wearing it 'for myself', women also wanted the Wonderbra for the effect it would have on other people (men and women) and the subsequent ego-boost that it would give them.

Demonstrating the Wonderbra Effect

Clearly, demonstrating the Wonderbra Effect would be the best way to motivate the Wonderbra Woman. It was, after all, the media message that women had originally responded to. But, as outlined earlier, it was how this was done in advertising that would be important.

In-depth interviews were conducted amongst women aged 16–30 (source: TBWA/Elucidation) to assess which of 13 potential Wonderbra advertisements worked best, and why. All but three were very well received.

The advertising was up-front, bold and direct, in keeping with women's view of the Wonderbra itself, and would stand out from the crowd and grab women's attention:

Brilliant, great. You couldn't get more to the point.

Respondent, 16–25 Manchester.

It would be talked about. People would say, "have you seen this?"

Respondent, 25–30 London

If sex appeal and feeling good was what the Wonderbra offered, a 'risqu, naughty' advertising approach was appropriate, as it reflected Wonderbra Woman's own view of her sexuality:

It's a bra that makes you feel sexy, so why not promote that fact?

Respondent, 25–30 London

Just as Wonderbra Woman liked to 'have a laugh' and enjoy herself, humour was used to amuse her and reflect the light-hearted, feel-good factor of the Wonderbra. The humour itself was seen as 'for women' and not 'aimed at women'.

Women are laughing at men for a change.

Respondent, 25–30 London

Whilst the advertising was bold and risqu, the fact that no men actually featured in the photography meant that women did not find the advertisement offensive or sexist:

I wouldn't want to see a bloke. She'd only be wearing it for him then.

Respondent, 16–24 London

Similarly, the confidence and self-assurance of the model was key as it showed her to be in control of the situation, not demeaned by it:

She looks great and she knows it. But she isn't a tart.

Respondent, 25–30 London

The three concepts that were less well received were rejected on the grounds of vulgarity and of going too far; ie 'too crude, male orientated and unsubtle' or 'demeaning to women' .

The advertisements

In essence, out of 10 possibles, three concepts which best reflected the Wonderbra and the Wonderbra Effect and were deemed to have the greatest impact, were previewed in their finished form to nearly 4,000 female lingerie sales assistants across the length and breadth of the country. And whilst this cannot be considered as conclusive research the overwhelming support for the advertising, the clapping and laughter, confirmed the potential of the campaign.


The key to the past and future success of the Wonderbra lay in sex and sexuality, and women clearly found this attractive, as long as it was not offensive or demeaning. Humour was used as a way of reducing this risk.

Extensive research showed that the 'One and Only' Wonderbra advertising campaign was seen as clever, enjoyable, appealing, motivating and relevant. And as well as appealing to women, no-one could disagree with the fact that 'sex sells newspapers', and that journalists would respond very positively to a bold, raunchy advertising campaign for the Wonderbra.

However, where the advertisements were finally placed would ensure their impact and the generation of publicity.


In terms of media choice, there were three key issues which needed to be considered:

Television, despite its undoubted impact, was unaffordable with the budget. The eventual media choice reflected the dual objective of talking to women and to the press.

Women's magazines

This would be the back-bone of the campaign, providing an on-going one-to-one dialogue with women. Environmentally, fashion and young women's titles were perfect as they were used by women to choose what to buy and what to wear (see Figure 3).

Format: Colour double-page spreads
Budget: 200,000
Timing: March to June issues


Posters would give the Wonderbra immediate and massive impact and awareness, being a highly visible medium. Women would be able to link what they saw on the high street with what they saw in their magazines. Most important, however, was the element of surprise that the Wonderbra advertisements would have as posters, because outdoor is not a typical lingerie medium. And it was the use of posters that would provide the key to the media and publicity interest.

Format: 48-sheet posters
Budget: 130,000
Timing: 2 weeks in February
Schedule: National coverage of major conurbations with 830 sites


The objectives of the campaign have already been discussed:

1. Short term

To substantially increase the power and reach of the advertising through the generation of editorial coverage.

2. Medium term

Whilst the long-term objective is to win the 'Bra Wars' the objective behind this initial phase of advertising was to try and ensure that Wonderbra sales figures were maintained at their previous, pre-licence changeover levels.

It is against these two requirements that the success of the advertising should be judged, and not how the Wonderbra performed against the Gossard Ultrabra as estimates of the competitive situation vary enormously and are therefore unreliable.

Media coverage – the results

Subjectively, few advertising campaigns have received as much exposure and generated as much interest as that for the Wonderbra. Hardly a day went by without some debate, discussion, comment or feature.

In an effort to assess the coverage, all relevant newspaper, magazine, television and radio coverage from the end of January 1994 to the end of April 1994 has been logged. Amazingly, coverage is still on-going, but one has to draw the line somewhere.

By relevant coverage, a strict definition was used to only include features or comments on the advertisements themselves or the previously unknown model, Eva Herzigova, used in the advertising – she was, after all, a crucial part of the campaign.

The subsequent, and numerous, comments and discussions of the Wonderbra itself have not been included. But clearly none of this would have happened without the advertising and the interest it caused.

A summary of the coverage is given in Table 1.


(end January 1994–end April 1994)


Number of features

Airtime/column inches

Estmated1 cost

Estimated2 value



167 mins





40 mins





5,353 c.ins



National press


8,998 c.ins



Local press


16,881 c.ins





207 mins/31,232 c.ins



1 Estimated rate card cost of buying the airtime or space for advertising

2 Institute of Public Relations estimation of the value of the editorial. The general rule is that the value of editorial is four times that of advertising in respect of its effect and influence. The estimated costs have therefore been multiplied by four.

Source: Eurospace/Jackie Cooper PR

If an advertiser wanted to buy the Wonderbra coverage as advertising space it would have cost an estimated 4,440,838 at rate-card prices.

If an advertiser wanted to replicate the value and potency of the Wonderbra coverage it would cost an astounding 17,763,352, according to Institute of Public Relations guidelines.

It has become clear that the posters led the way in the generation of coverage. And two weeks of poster advertising generated 386 features including three hours of airtime, which increased the 130,000 poster spend by an astronomical 13,664%. Even including the 200,000 women's magazines spend as well, the budget would have increased by 5,383%.

The media covered every possible aspect of the advertising from 'have you seen the ads' , to 'are they dangerous for male drivers, are they sexy or sexist, who's the model and why was she chosen, who were the people behind the product and campaign, what the advertising tells us about women today' and 'what about Wonderpants for men?'

Congratulations to Wonderbra on their eye-catching ads.

The Guardian, 17/2/94

Heads have turned, eyes have swivelled. They're the sexiest billboards in town.

Sunday Express, 6/3/94

The Wonderbra ads are all humour and health – they're swell.

Today, 19/3/94

Wonder ad.

Daily Express, 4/3/94

The current Wonderbra posters are hard to miss.

Financial Times, 10/3/94

The [Wonderbra] advertisements are not offensive.

Daily Telegraph, 16/3/94

Such was the level of UK media interest that the model, Eva Herzigova, has become an international 'star' and the advertising has been featured in the American, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese media, including CNN and the US Entertainment Tonite show.

Sales – background

Advertising and the resulting publicity's effect on sales has been no less dramatic. To put the relaunch results into their proper context, the following points need to be specified:

The only element of the mix that did in fact change was the advertising, along with the in-store displays and packaging which were a direct translation of the campaign.

But, before outlining the results it is important to note that the clothing industry as a whole is very difficult to monitor, and Playtex do not subscribe to the only retail audit, TMS. Monitoring is not helped by the fragmented distribution, covering everything from department stores, retail/grocery chains, to independents, mail order and market stalls. With this in mind, trade estimates are the only available means of measuring the results.

Sales – the results

The relaunch objective was to maintain Wonderbra sales at their previous, and very high, levels. And the results themselves have exceeded all expectations.

The fact that on average 41% more Wonderbras are bought per week in 1994 than in 1993, and 118% more than in 1992 (see Figure 4) testifies to the effectiveness of the advertising and the resultant publicity.

In conclusion then, limited advertising for the Wonderbra, and the publicity surrounding it, has achieved the following:

And this success in the UK has had a substantial and unexpected additional benefit. Playtex has made 500 major distribution gains for the Wonderbra as a result of its successful relaunch, including Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, Hennes, Asda and Tesco, and negotiations with other retailers are under way. The Wonderbra has subsequently been launched to enormous publicity and excitement in the US, France, Germany and South Africa with the same advertising campaign, translated where necessary. At least three other European Wonderbra launches are planned before the end of 1994.


The first few months of the Playtex Wonderbra relaunch were absolutely critical. The advertising needed to ensure the support of the media, of women and of retailers if the Wonderbra was to survive 'Bra Wars'.

Far from surviving, this paper has demonstrated that by thinking big and being brave, advertising has helped create a phenomenon of tantalising proportions.

The media became bra crazy, with everyone from the Sunday Sport, Ruby Wax, David Frost and the Financial Times discussing, debating and enjoying the Wonderbra advertising at an estimated value of nearly 18,000,000. The advertising was still in the news three months later, despite the traditionally short life-span of 'fashions'.

Far from rejecting the Wonderbra in favour of 'newer, more exciting models' women have embraced the 30-year-old Wonderbra with a renewed fervour. Not only have 9,000 units per week been protected, over 7,000 more Wonderbras are bought per week now than in 1993 when the bra had supposedly reached the height its of success. The total value of these sales is 224,337 per week.

The trade, like the media and women, cannot get enough of the Wonderbra. Not only is it now available in 500 additional and invaluable outlets in the UK as a direct result of this success, the Wonderbra has subsequently been launched in the US, France, Germany and South Africa with additional launches planned. The trade are very firmly behind the Playtex Wonderbra:

I'm getting the most incredible feedback from retailers. The push-up bra market has exploded yet again, with the Wonderbra pushing sales to even greater heights. My customers are telling me that the cash tills just keep on ringing.

Ken Campbell, Sales Director of Playtex

At the time of writing, it is too early to tell who has won the 'Bra Wars' , however after the first battle, the Wonderbra is poised for victory.


IPA, Institute of Practitioners in Advertising, London 1994