Viral marketing: THIS is how you sell men’s underwear online

Guillaume Gibault made a bet with friends that he would launch an e-commerce in men’s underwear, and so he did, in September 2011.

Le Slip Français was proudly French, sold high quality underwear in three colors (in the national colors white, blue and red, naturally), and showed encouraging traction from the very start. In terms of image building, it went with a slightly tongue in cheek ‘old school’ imagery on its site:

Within 3 months, his ‘Le Slip Français’ achieved a turnover of about € 40 000. But Gibault was looking for something extra, he said. He still missed that spark that really sets a brand on fire. But when he saw this clip in the French presidential election about “change starts here”, he knew he had it.

Here’s François Hollande’s clip:

For Gibault, from “change starts here” to “a change of underwear starts here” was only a small step. So he tested the idea on the company’s Facebook page with a few posters spoofing the campaign. “People liked it, so I decided to push it a bit and make a video out of it”.

After the media discovered the clip, Le Slip Français was launched for real.

E-commerce is a fierce environment, as Harry Nelis from Accel Partners said yesterday. It’s hard to differentiate, and technically, it’s a matter of days to start a clone of something that works. That puts a lot of pressure on an e-commerce startup to find a good brand voice and turn customers into brand ambassadors.

Le Slip Français definitely shows a lot of flair in that department, actively engaging with Facebook followers to create fun campaigns – it turns out, people like jokes with underwear (who knew?):

Throughout its campaigns, it succeeds very well in keeping up a self mocking, tone. This YouTube clip is on its way to a million viewers, which merited a  story on the FastCompany website:

It’s not just funny business, though. The campaigns actually convert visitors into paying customers. Every visitor to his site equals about € 1 in turnover, Gibault tells Les Echos. In 2012, total turnover reached € 300 000, or 200 000 men’s trunks.

And while the business is already profitable, he recently did a ‘friends and family’ round to spur the growth. Gibault reckons he still has ‘one or two’ great years ahead of him in France. After that, he wants to take his underwear to Asia.

[Photos: Le Slip Français]

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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