Sexy and provocative. Comfortable and high-quality. Innovative and modern. In its 105-year history, the Palmers brand has been reinvented several times. Since “Restenkönig“ (literally translating as Surplus King) was founded in Innsbruck in 1915, only the crown in the striking green logo has remained the same. Innovative marketing and a good instinct for social trends made Palmers an iconic brand in Austria and beyond. After a phase of consolidation, Austria’s largest textile company is now back on the road to success. What can marketers learn from Palmers’ eventful history?
A World that Fits. Austria’s best-known underwear and lingerie brand Palmers has been using its new slogan since 2019. It was the last public signal of five years of change. In 2015, the Austrian Wieser and Hutmann families took over the troubled company from German equity fund Quadriga Capital. A major restructuring was followed by a new marketing strategy, which moved away from decades of successful “sex sells” motifs with supermodels towards the “woman next door” with all her “edges and curves”.
Palmers: Marketing in Changing Times
Over time, the Palmers brand reinvented itself more than once. Since Ludwig Palmers opened his first lingerie shop “Restenkönig” in Innsbruck in 1915, the history of the company has been inextricably linked to its marketing. Newspaper advertisements in the 1920s were followed by the characteristic – and at that time extremely innovative – corporate design in the early 1930s. Legend has it that the distinctive green was chosen by chance, and adorned all shop branches from then on, in addition to the crown logo. After years of scarcity during World War 2, Palmers established itself as the reliable provider of underwear for the economic miracle years, only to vehemently brush off the dowdy dust of those decades at the beginning of the 80s with provocative, suggestive and sexy motifs.
During the 1990s, many of the billboard ads became iconic and underscored an aggressive expansion strategy in up to 15 European countries. Modern feminism and a trend towards more comfort and sustainability instigated the brand’s return to its roots, refocusing on its traditional green, a perfect fit, and models that offer more potential for identification to the female 38+ target group. A successful return to old virtues, it seems. After years of turmoil, Palmers is showing solid growth again. What are the foundations for the long-term success of the Palmers brand? Let’s investigate.
Early-Mover Advantage: Innovation
Soon after starting his company, founder Ludwig Palmers’ ingenuity and innovative spirit when it came to marketing and products started to show. He opted for a compelling company logo in striking green with a crown that attracted the public attention to Palmers’ franchise stores even in the 1930s, a time when corporate design or the concept of franchise were only known to very few companies. During the war, when silk stockings were nearly impossible to buy, Palmers offered its female clientele the so-called “magic stocking” – a kind of early self-tan that at least visually conveyed that silk-stocking feeling. In 1949, the fashionable Palmers coin in green and gold replaced conventional vouchers and promptly became a popular classic gift. Decades later, in the year 2000, Palmers was one of the first to jump into e-commerce with its comprehensive online store. Palmers is currently planning to introduce candles, bed linen, and other “bedroom-related” products in spring 2020, thus showing again their flexibility in the face of new and recurring trends.
Pushing Boundaries: Provocation
In the struggle for the attention of their target group, Palmers repeatedly, and successfully, took a provocative approach. As early as the 1950s, posters depicting women’s legs visible above the knees caused a stir in Austria’s prudish post-war society. At the beginning of the 80s, Palmers dusted off the dowdy image created in the 1970s. International supermodels posed in three-part photo series, including suggestive headlines such as “You are beautiful.” or “Come home soon.”
In those times, naked men modeling had never been heard of, with Palmers spearheading a new and daring approach. In the late 90s, a billboard showing a group of models lying on their stomach as an advertisement for tights (without underpants) became iconic in Austria and beyond. Palmers always managed to take advantage of the press’ attention, but also of the indignation of various interest groups, by pushing boundaries. A risky but long-term strategy that only lost traction in the 2010s. In 2020, Palmers’ days of sexual provocation seem to be over – for the time being, anyway.
Reading the Signs of the Times: Flexibility
What women want from their lingerie keeps changing. Palmers’ marketing message not only picked up on social trends but also helped to shape them. While bras needed to support and shape in the post-war period, women in the late 1960s and 1970s did not want to feel restricted by them. Palmers responded promptly with barely noticeable, light “no-bras”.
In the early 1980s, the focus was primarily on self-confident female sensuality – a trend that Palmers also recognized early on and actively fueled. The strategy made Palmers an iconic brand beyond Austria’s borders in the 90s and early 2000s, with billboards becoming collector’s items. But the “sex sells” strategy, which worked reliably for decades, increasingly got into the line of fire of public debates about everyday sexism – especially among Palmers’ main target group: women. Since the late 2010s, comfort, authenticity, and sustainability of the underwear became more important, and Palmers adapted.
Back to the Roots: Reliability
The revamp of Palmers’ marketing strategy with an increased focus on the target group (women in their late 30s and older) seems to bring the company full circle. In times of global upheaval, technological revolutions and health crises, familiarity, wellbeing, and consistency are more in demand than ever. Palmers definitely hits the spot with its “A World That Fits” campaign, replacing the cool, modern olive green of the past few years with the classically strong palm green. Ads show diverse “women next door” from different age groups and racial background, and a sustainable laundry line is also on offer. In addition, a range of home products such as candles, bed linen, etc. is going to be introduced in spring 2020. Thus, Palmers seems to be ready for the 2020s. Until the next shape-shift.
Palmers: MARMIND Top Tips
Stay easy to recognize – a strong corporate design acts as a long-term visual anchor.
Think ahead – how can current trends be taken into account in a way that makes sense for your brand? Which other products could complement your brand?
Have the courage to say goodbye – even long-term successful strategies finally run out of steam; a good opportunity to reinvent yourself!
This article is based on the following sources (German only):