In 2016, actor/comedian Kevin Hart invested in Tommy John, the disruptive, irreverent, and somewhat restless underwear line. (After all, when you’re entering a populated space with lots of noise, you need to know how to enter that space in such a way to really disrupt the conversation everyone is already having within that category. And you need to find that “secret sauce” that will get your brand heard.)
“I wanted to be something more than just another celebrity endorser,” said Hart.
“There’s something so much more authentic about investing in the brands that you love – brands that you wear, instead of getting paid to. I love this underwear. It’s comfortable, it looks good, they say it like it is. Tommy John is disrupting, innovating, and marketing underwear in a far more genuine and relatable way than the world has ever seen. I’m excited to be given the opportunity to get involved.”
No Adjustment Needed
CEO Tom Patterson launched Tommy John after long being frustrated by the lack of innovation in men’s undergarments (Tom was raised in Milbank, South Dakota—population: 3,600).
The company has grown 2.5 times year over year since 2014 and is expected to exceed $100M in sales this year.
Disruption Takes Balls:
How to Shift Public Perception
From a branding perspective, Tommy John took a product category that was primarily a commodity and disrupted with a swift kick in the right place. Looking over the work of the company as a brand steward and the excellent brand messaging of the agency, Preacher, that Tommy John hired, the brand voice is so right, it all seems inevitable. Just look at:
- The humor,
- The wit,
- The authenticity,
- The photography, and
- Knowing when to stop (the sign of any great artist or brand)
So, I sat down (not physically, but spiritually—read digitally), and got some great insights from Tom Patterson himself.
What’s your take on the value of having a distinct brand voice?
“It’s incredibly important to have a unique brand voice. Men’s underwear is a very crowded space with both heritage and up-and-coming brands. That said, we believe the other brands in the category have a tendency to come off as unapproachable and non-relatable.
“We say it like it is and talk about real life struggles guys have with their underwear like bat wings, wedgies, and adjusting.”
What’s have you learned while creating a name for the Tommy John brand?
“I learned the importance of being authentic and creating a product that solves an unmet need. That’s really what we do at the end of the day. All our products originate from solving problems I’ve had personally with my clothing.”
How would an entrepreneur go about finding an industry to disrupt and what actions are crucial starting out?
“Find something that you can make better, something you’re passionate about, and just do it.
“Don’t conform to industry standards. I had no background or connections in clothing design nor manufacturing, and to this day I believe that was my greatest asset. I was able to find new, more efficient ways to get things done. I asked questions and challenged processes that most people in the industry follow on autopilot.”
How do brands get consumers to care about a product, or even perceive the need for that product?
“Solve a problem (or an unfulfilled need) in the market and get people to try it.
“Before I took my first meeting with a retail buyer in 2009 I made her gift her husband and all male colleagues Tommy John. When I arrived, she had already received resoundingly positive feedback and was ready to put us in 3x more doors than initially discussed.
“Our first commercial, The Big Adjustment, went viral with over a million views within the first 5 days of its release. The commercial spoke of the uncomfortable truths about male adjustment — something all guys can relate to, and all women have witnessed.”
Studies show that 50% of new businesses fail to last longer than 5 years. How did you avoid that statistic?
“We made the decision not be reliant on VC funding because we wanted to grow at our own pace and maintain control of the business. Too often people get caught up in evaluating the business by its valuation and allowing things to distract their focus. Large funding rounds can’t secure longevity in the business. Instead, it’s important to perfect your product and understand your customers first.”
After Tommy John was a successful brand, Kevin Hart reached out. Why, after all this success, was it a good fit?
“To be honest, I was very hesitant to bring Kevin Hart on as an investor in the company when he first reached out.
“I was worried that his celebrity would dominate the branding we’ve spent years cultivating. It wasn’t until Kevin sat me down and said ‘I don’t want this to be Kevin Hart’s brand. You’ve already built a big, respectable, and credible brand… I just want to be part of it. I want to help you grow.’
“He explained how much he loved the product and respected the brand as it is. His hustle, determination, understanding and genuine love for the product and brand made me reconsider.”
The Tommy John Brand on Full Display
Tommy John is a great example of finding your brand voice, being true to that voice, never compromising and the cojones to continue doing it until the rest of the world catches on. Exactly the qualities I cover in Brand Intervention.
Use These 6 Steps to Find Your Unique Voice
- Find your voice. (Yours, and not some version of someone else’s.)
- Be impossible to ignore.
- Be willing to disrupt.
- Be prepared to shake things up.
- Stay the course when feathers get ruffled.
- Have fun.