Because, popular culture fans, this is a first, this is a breakthrough, this is a victory over TV's tough ad censors. And besides that, it represents a new battle in the under-war that has been under way between two underwear makers for several years now.
First, about the ads:
Fruit of the Loom made TV history last Thursday night when, for the first time ever, it aired a commercial on NBC in which a young woman is seen in her undies. When we first see her, she is wearing a dressing gown. She goes over to the window. A breeze billows the gown - and, ooh la la - we see her panties.
We have not seen women's underpants - or men's underpants - modeled on a real body on television in the past. One reason for this, says Lester Schwartz, vice president for advertising for Fruit of the Loom, is that the network censors simply would not allow it.
The TV ad execs were afraid we would become a nation of voyeurs if we were allowed to peep at ladies in their lingerie or gentlemen in their skivvies. But, of course, we became a nation of voyeurs anyway, with the help of movies and magazines.
Undie advertisers complained about this. "All we want to do," they said, ''is show the product we sell. Nothing racy about it - certainly nowhere near as racy as your soap operas . . . "
And so the barriers - and outer clothing - began to fall. You will recall that last year, for the first time, Playtex was allowed to air a commercial that showed a woman wearing a bra next to her skin. Before that, bras were shown on TV either floating in the air, or worn over outer clothing. Or a fully dressed woman claimed to be wearing one.
But the bottom line, as it were, continued to present a problem. Women's panties were not advertised at all. That wasn't just because of network censorship, says Fruit of the Loom's Schwartz. It was also because, in the past, women's panties haven't had the brand-name identification of other types of wear.
Men's skivvies have had strong brand-name and TV ad campaigns on their behalf. But here again network rules led to ads in which the underwear was discussed rather than modeled. Fruit of the Loom's ads all featured "Fruit Guys" - four men dressed up as two grapes, an apple and a leaf, who make silly jokes. Fruit of the Loom's archrival, Hanes, had tough "Inspector 12" who examined waistbands on the assembly line and claimed "they don't say Hanes until I say they say Hanes."
Underwear advertising is difficult to do, says Lester Schwartz, not only
because of network rules, but because underwear is basically a low-interest category. "People don't go out and discuss their underwear. The trick is to create ads that - without being provocative - awaken consumer interest. I think our Fruit guys did that."
But Schwartz felt the time had come to create a different kind of commercial - to show underwear on the body. "Fit is important to people," he said. "We wanted to show how our products fit." And so, now, because Grey Advertising in New York created them and all three networks have agreed to run them, you will soon be able to see Fruit of the Loom products in the flesh . . . on the flesh . . . whatever.
You may have to wait a bit, though. Schwartz says the commercials that ran last week (and for which Fruit of the Loom paid NBC almost $1 million for two minutes of air time) were just a preview of coming attractions. The campaign will get under way in earnest in April.
When, no doubt, we will also be seeing and hearing from Fruit of the Loom's major competitor, Hanes.
Fruit of the Loom and Hanes have long been each other's main competition in stores like K mart and Wal-Mart where the majority of men's underwear is sold. (Higher-priced Jockey brand tends to be sold in department stores.)
And tough competitors they are, too. When Inspector 12 came right out and said Fruit of the Loom T-shirts would shrink more than Hanes T-shirts, the Fruit Guys shot back that Fruit of the Loom shirts provided better fit. Sorry Hanes, you lose, they snarled.
So now Fruit of the Loom is battling on two fronts. First, like Jockey, they are producing ladies panties identified with their well-known brand, and second, they are mounting this $25 million ad campaign to publicize both male and female drawers - on male and female bodies.
Hanes has launched a new campaign of its own - no ladies, and even though Hanes is a subsidiary of Sara Lee, no cheesecake either. Hanes' $15 million ad campaign will be featuring "tough guys" like Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka and former Los Angeles Raider Lyle Alzado who will testify that the comfort of Hanes appeals to their soft side.
But, for now anyway, Inspector 12 will keep her clothes on.