In the 1930s, Frederick Mellinger worked for a mail order firm selling ladies’ underwear.
Huge underpants, huge brassieres, huge night-dresses, and always in white.
Mellinger suggested they could be more attractive in different colours, including black.
He was fired: the men running the mail order house were the experts in public taste, they said what he suggested was perverted and they didn’t sell ‘sleazy burlesque costumes’.
But the thought persisted with Mellinger, why couldn’t underwear be attractive?
The war came along and Mellinger was called up for the army.
In the barracks every man had his own locker, and in each locker were pinups.
And all the pinups were women posing in attractive underwear or swimwear.
Mellinger realised he wasn’t perverted, he was just a normal guy.
Like the thousands of other normal guys in the army.
They didn’t want pinups of women in massive white bloomers, they wanted pinups of women in attractive underwear.
Maybe women would prefer to wear that too, maybe there was a market for it.
After he left the army, he opened a shop in Manhattan called Fredericks of Fifth Avenue.
He sold lacy, black lingerie which older, respectable married women wouldn’t go near.
But younger women and showgirls and dancers open to new ideas, liked it.
But Mellinger had a problem, the newspapers wouldn’t take his advertisements.
The male editors thought his illustrations of underwear were pornographic, and they decided they were the experts in public taste.
Mellinger realised his branding and his location was wrong.
He moved to California and changed the company name to Fredericks of Hollywood.
He advertised the lingerie as “The most alluring, body-hugging, figure enhancing fashions” and it was exactly what the wannabe starlets of Tinseltown wanted.
In Hollywood, young women wanted a shape that would get them admired, like movie stars.
Mellinger even imported and sold a scandalous garment from France: the bikini.
Women were arrested for indecency, just for wearing the bikini on Venice Beach.
Which made Fredericks of Hollywood an even more daring place to shop.
He advertised, “Bare Illusion Panties – to wear under your prettiest things, when you want to feel extra alluring and just a little naughty too.”
Mellinger knew his market wasn’t puritanical conservative types.
In 1947 he had introduced the padded bra which was an immediate success.
So in 1948 he introduced the push-up bra, in 1951, he introduced the padded girdle, and later the thong panty.
Mellinger knew more about what women wanted than puritanical male newspaper editors.
He opened 150 shops in malls across middle America.
They were so successful that by 1998 they were making $200 million a year in revenue.
All because Mellinger hadn’t listened to so-called experts.
Experts will have you believe that everyone wants the same thing.
But if we know anything about marketing, we know not everyone wants the same thing.
Nielsen says there are 2,000 product categories worldwide, and 500,000 brands.
How would that be possible if everybody wanted the same thing?
Advertising is built on the premise that everyone doesn’t want the same thing.
So beware anyone who tells you to ignore your common sense.
Someone who’s studied the numbers and then decided they know the rules.
If you know your market you don’t need an ‘expert’ to tell you what you can and can’t do.
Our own common sense is usually a better guide.
As Carl Ally said: “A market researcher is someone who looks at your watch, tells you the time, then sends you a bill.”