How do you follow up a successful fashion campaign featuring stretch denim and snappy shirtdresses all modeled by female PhDs? This would be a conundrum for any major label, but for Chris Lindland, the founder of Betabrand, it was a e-commerce challenge he hadn’t quite anticipated.
“For a business that’s had good luck at attracting eyeballs, this was the promotion of all promotions,” Lindland tells Co.Create. “It made global news and introduced Betabrand to lots of smart women.” Though fans of the San Francisco startup have always responded well to the company’s go-to sales strategy of crowdsourcing, then showcasing, “real” people wearing their clothes, Lindland admits he hesitated when people asked if Betabrand was planning to feature MDs or MBAs. “I worried that would come across as formulaic,” he says.
So he and Betabrand’s content producer Liz Rossof put their heads together to generate a new concept for their women’s fall line. Not surprising for an online retailer that built its reputation one cheeky product and double entendre at a time, the two decided to tap the comedy world. Of female comedians, Lindland says, “Their intelligence is magic. Most have high-end academic backgrounds, so it’s a fun chapter in the same story. We’d love to build a brand around smart women.” And the Fall Comedy Collection was born.
Rossof says she started by reaching out to a few industry contacts including Sarah Haskins (writer and cocreator of Trophy Wife) and Anna David (CEO and founder of AfterPartyChat) who not only took part in the project but referred her to friends and colleagues. “All the women had already seen (and appreciated) our PhD campaign, so they were excited to be a part of our next campaign, recognizing them for their smarts,” she says. In all, fourteen women came together to model the clothes including Brenda Hsueh, writer for How I Met Your Mother, Rachel Axler, writer and producer for The Daily Show, and other smart alecky stars in the comedic firmament.
Not one of them were paid for their efforts, says Lindland, and all were punctual and professional adds Rossof, no “tardy buffer” for LA traffic necessary. “Many of the women we shot knew each other, or had worked together in the past, so their ability to riff off one another’s energy and talent was incredible to watch,” she says.
The resulting campaign photos and videos are full of tongue-in-cheek humor. A rubber chicken, nerd glasses, and swim fins appear throughout –ironically, of course. For Lindland, this latest effort further cements his vision, both in a conceptual and concrete bottom-line way. “E-commerce companies invest the lion’s share of their marketing efforts into direct response advertising. It’s mega-measurable, but light on branding,” he contends. Lindland prefers to invest in these types of shoots along with site hacks, “to show folks what our brand stands for: creativity.”
The company simultaneously launched another campaign fronted by comedian Margaret Cho. It’s part of the company’s ThinkTank, a crowdsourcing platform that allows anyone to design a piece, then relies on community voting to determine if the item will be produced. Cho’s design, “The Solitaire,” is a comfy jumpsuit meant to multitask as a handbag (with handy pockets for lipstick, keys, smartphone, etc.) that marries well with Betabrand’s Comedy Collection. “The pillars of our brand are Model Citizen (the app that lets anyone be the lead model on our site) and ThinkTank, so it’s appropriate that female comics would take over both.” Lindland says Cho will not only model but will earn a commission just like everyone else who designs for Betabrand.
When asked if the four-year old Betabrand is profitable, Lindland says emphatically no. “And not a sheepish no,” he continues, “We’re trying to build the Kickstarter of clothing. By focusing only online and making significant engineering investments, our cost structures and distribution look nothing like a regular apparel brand. The good news is this is paying off and costs and revenues look like they’ll match up by next summer.”
Lindland also notes that with the success of the female PhD campaign and sales of popular products such as Dress Pant Yoga Pants and Black Sheep Wrap Sweaters, women make up nearly half of Betabrand’s customer base. “All the press on that campaign sent hundreds of thousands of direct visitors to our site and made Betabrand’s approach a topic in many marketing departments,” Lindland points out. “Since this spring, we’ve gotten a lot of invitations to speak at brand conferences and visits from innovation teams, all because our supercomputer was able to calculate that smart women are sexy,” he quips.