by Brian Lipton
Tom Patterson
Tom Patterson

The fact that Tommy John’s latest underwear campaign is called “The Big Adjustment” could be seen as having a double meaning. If the much-watched video specifically shows men through the ages trying to make their underwear fit more comfortably (while still keeping their pants on), the fact remains the company’s founder and CEO Tom Patterson made a big adjustment himself when he transitioned from medical sales to creating Tommy John after having struggled with his own problems with discomfort “down there.”

The move (you should pardon the expression) proved to be a good one; the company now retails its products in over 500 department and specialty stores, with Bloomingdale’s and Dillard’s to come within the next four months, and has expanded its offerings to include socks, loungewear, and athleisurewear. (Patterson declined to offer the company’s revenue.)

Meanwhile, more or less in conjunction with “The Big Adjustment” campaign, Tommy John has launched its “AIR” collection of lightweight underwear. “We developed it for two years,” says Patterson. “We wanted something that was lightweight yet soft and durable. For one thing, our customer does a lot of traveling, so that’s a factor in what we produce. And as a premium brand, we always want to make sure you get what you pay for. One thing we’ve also learned over the years it that while men say they’re looking for durability and performance, it’s often what they’re not looking for – functionality – that they really need, but don’t realize they do until they’ve worn our underwear.”

Tommy John AIR Collection

That many men have converted to Tommy John – business has tripled each of the past two years – isn’t a complete surprise to Patterson. “This category is ripe for disruption and ready for innovation,” he says. “For one thing, back in 2008, women accounted for 65 percent of men’s underwear sales, and now, according to NPD, it’s 36 percent. I figure it will be less than 20 percent in a year or so. Men are taking more responsibility for their own shopping needs,” he notes. “And we’ve also become aware of how they shop, which is why our website now shows just flat panels of the product. A lot of guys do online shopping at their offices, and they don’t want to see some shirtless guy with an 8-pack on their video screen, especially with other people walking by. In fact, the whole Tommy John philosophy, whether it’s the in-store or online experience, is to make it the most comfortable experience possible. We don’t want to intimidate guys. It’s important for us to be an approachable brand.”

That belief is one reason the men in “The Big Adjustment” video are so regular-looking. The campaign, which was created with Austin-based advertising agency Preacher, intentionally mimics real life. “For months, we watch real guys to see what adjustment moves they make daily and don’t even realize they do, as well as women’s reaction to them,” says Patterson. “The message we wanted to spread is that it doesn’t matter what color, race, or age you are, all men have the same issue – and that comfort can start from the beginning of your day.”

Tommy John AIR Collection

It’s a message Patterson says may need to be hammered home, especially given Tommy John’s pricing (a pair of underwear can retail for as much as $48). “Underwear is one of the last thing men have upgraded in their wardrobe, but we strongly believe that the 21st century man will do so. I think in the next 10 years, underwear brands will be built very differently than they had been in the last 20 years,” says Patterson.

As for Tommy John, Patterson says that they’re possibly hoping to expand beyond underwear. “If we can, we want to dress men from the inside out,” says Patterson. But whatever product they serve up next will probably stay focused on men. “I never say never — but women’s underwear is a very saturated market,” he notes. “Plus, to be honest, I haven’t been comfortable enough to wear women’s underwear and find out what the problem with it is.”