Challenger to Watch: ThirdLove

For putting fit before fantasy


In Season 2 of the West Wing, during a flashback to the primaries, Sam Seaborn advises candidate Bartlet to never create name recognition for the other guy. Always refer to him as “my opponent.”

Ed Razek, CMO of Victoria’s Secret clearly doesn’t have a Seaborn-type advising him, for in Vogue of all places, he made the comment, “we’re nobody’s ThirdLove, we’re their first love”, and handed ThirdLove founder, Heidi Zak, all the excuse she needed to weigh in on the furor Razek created with his demeaning comments about plus-sized and trans-gender models.


And weigh in she did. With a full-page ad in the New York Times, she expressed not only her disdain, but also her point of view as a brand, establishing ThirdLove as the thought leader in lingerie, ready to take even more business from a troubled Victoria’s Secret.

ThirdLove had every right to attack. It is women owned and led and makes “bras for every body”. It was the first to do ½ sizes in recognition that nearly half of all women fall between sizes. Its bras now run from 32AA to 40F (without talking about “plus sizing”) and come in a wide variety of skin tones. And its models reflect its strategy, of course.

Credit: ThirdLove / Facebook

Credit: ThirdLove / Facebook

Remember when Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty was controversial for showing (gasp) real women? That approach is so much the norm now that Aerie’s Real Me campaign looks idea-less and barely worth a second look today — culturally a good thing, not so good for salience.

A new crop of challengers needs to push norms further still to create the distinctiveness they need, such as this beautiful work for ASOS.

ThirdLove is going to have to continue to push the envelope in how it thinks about the product and brand experience. How does it continue to drive Thought Leadership in a category that seems to have been unleashed now? What frontiers will it look to challenge next in user experience, business model, messaging?

And every bit as interesting is how Victoria’s Secret responds. Will they double down on Angels and the male-gaze? Do they bet that there is still a bigger market for fantasy over reality? Or will they change with the times and redefine entirely their worldview? With $3.2bn in sales up for grabs these are big questions.

What would Sam Seaborn’s advice to Victoria Secret be? “Let Bartlet be Bartlet”, of course.

Mark Barden is West Coast partner at eatbigfish. He is the co-author with Adam Morgan of the book "A Beautiful Constraint: How to Transform Your Limitations Into Advantages and Why It's Everyone's Business."