BETONES – ‘Un-selling’ Underwear

I recently made a pilgrimage to Daikanyama, a part of Tokyo that the New York Times fittingly describes as “Tokyo’s Church of Chic.” It was a bright, balmy day.  Just right for sitting back in a street-side café and observing young and moneyed Tokyo swing past.  Particularly since the combination of young and moneyed – top that with children promenaded in high-tech prams – becomes an increasingly rare sight in Japan.  The surrounding shops fit the urban-chic audience – or vice versa.  From the high-design T-Site complex with its anchor Tsutaya bookstore, the APC urban fashion flagship boutique, the swanky COSME kitchen ware store to the Green Dog spa complete with ‘coiffur’ salon, playground and supermarket with pet gourmet foods and designer accessories.  Be it for mom, baby or dog, clearly the premium prices of things were not a top concern for these shoppers.  Even the corner convenience store is a tony version of the otherwise humble ‘Family Mart’ national chain.

The bicycle store I visited next – F.I.G – fits seamlessly into this tony environment. It displayed a refined selection of mostly minimalist designer bikes, some made-to-measure ‘couture’, many electric.   Biking is hip with the urban-intellectual cohort around the globe right now, providing an opportunity to declare and life one’s green convictions – with sophistication, comfort and style, of course.  Biking also provides an opportunity to demarcate against upper class peers who are devoted to more conspicuous, luxury-oriented consumption.

I couldn’t help but notice this display by “Betones” in the middle of the store.  I was a bit  puzzled.  It didn’t quite fit with what I had seen so far.  What have beer drinking, cigarette smoking and balding blokes in colorful underpants got to do with bikes?  What is Betones?  It sounds Italian but look looks Proletarian-British. Man hosiery with 60ies patterns?…  In short, I was sucked into wanting to find out what this mysterious brand was all about.  In the process I discovered an intriguing example of “Un-Selling“, one of our premium branding principles. For if “Selling is about the opposite of Seducing” and “Un-Selling is about creating proximity while maintaining a distance”, then Betones is playing around with this concept of “Un-Selling” in interesting ways.

As I will learn from the store staff and the brand’s website, Betones is actually a new Japanese brand of specialty underwear that is woven of some special stretchy material “utilizing a 3D knitting machine technology from Italy … to achieve a perfectly calculated fit”.  It seems that these no-seam, extra wicking, body wrapping underpants are perfect for cycling – or any other activity that could cause chafing.  …   I am intrigued, being a biker myself and so on – But ex-post, and to be honest it is rather the funky pictures and patterns that pulled me in.  The rest is post-rationalization. Underwear that intrigues and puts a smile on your face deserves my attention.

Betones has done so by breaking underwear category conventions;  By being the un-Calvin Klein, the un-La Perla (yes, there are Betones for women, too).  This is what we call “Un-Selling.”  The brand has chosen NOT to follow the mass marketing model of trying to make its products look attractive in line with category or premium price tier norms.  Note that these darlings start at $25 a piece.  Neither a Hanes nor a Gucci would choose to show a fat-bellied guy smoking on the toilet in their ads.  Communication testing is unlikely to yield a win on ‘liking’ or ‘convincingness’.  And we are far away from the glam and sexy world of the Italian fashion house… All of this might make this brand just a perfect fit with the identity project of Daikanyama shoppers.  Betones is non-conformist but also obviously high quality and special, after all.

Will this young brand succeed in becoming an iconic underwear band – or more?  The jury is out.  It will depend a lot on how well they understand and master all the other drivers of keeping their brand intriguing, beyond compare and desirable among a growing, profitable audience.  But storytelling, associating themselves with retailers and events that fit that story and appealing to a moneyed, influential crowd  seems like a good start.

Tokyo’s Church of Chic“, Kaori Shoji, New York Times, Aug ’00
Daikanyama T-Site Bookstore” by Deezine Magazine, Sept ’12
Betones Website all pictures depicting Betones products on this blog post can be found on their site.

About JP Kuehlwein

JP Kuehlwein is a global business leader and brand builder with a 25+ year track record of translating consumer and brand insights into transformational propositions that win in market. Principal at ‘Ueber-Brands’ a New York consulting firm, he now helps others to elevate brands and make them peerless and priceless. JP also teaches brand strategy at NYU Stern and Columbia Business School and leads the Marketing Institute at The Conference Board, all in New York. Jp previously was Executive Vice President at Frédéric Fekkai & Co, a prestige salon operator and hair care brand and lead brand- and corporate strategy development and execution at multinational Procter & Gamble as Brand Director and Director of Strategy. JP and Wolf Schaefer have co-authored the best-selling books “Rethinking Prestige Branding – Secrets of the Ueber-Brands” which lays out what drives the success of modern premium brands and "Brand Elevation - Lessons in Ueber-Branding" a guide to developing and executing a brand elevation strategy. Find the books here:
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