First, let me say I have no connection whatsoever with Duluth Trading Company unless you count the jacket I just got as an early Christmas present. And I’m not receiving anything in exchange for what I’m about to say. Of course, if they wanted to send me a little something, it would be insulting for me to refuse.
When I started looking for a new jacket, I browsed the websites of the usual big box stores and sporting goods stores. Same old stuff. I’m not extravagant or snobbish by any means, but I did want something different.
Then Duluth Trading Company popped into my head. I can honestly say that Duluth Trading Company ads are the most consistently outstanding ads I’ve seen during the past few years. I loved the ads so much that I wanted to reward them with my business.
I went with the Fire Hose Chore Coat in the Texas Tea color. Comfortable, durable, warm, lots of pockets, and it doesn’t look so casual that I can’t wear it to a business meeting. It’s pretty much the best jacket I’ve ever owned.
I remember the first time I saw a TV ad for Duluth Trading Buck Naked Underwear with a big, burly guy pole dancing. It made me laugh out loud. The marketing nerd in me thought it was brilliant, and I had the same reaction to just about every other Duluth ad I’ve seen.
Here are a few reasons why.
It’s simple and relatable.
This is the thing about other products that sucks. This is the thing about a Duluth Trading product that’s awesome. Buy the Duluth product. Done and done.
That’s the basic formula for most Duluth ads. Marketing 101, executed perfectly.
If you deal with the discomfort or frustration illustrated in the ad, you almost feel stupid for not buying a product that makes that issue go away.
Although the thing that sucks about other products and the thing that’s awesome about Duluth Trading are exaggerated in the ads, the scenarios are relatable and believable. They don’t sell on price, and they don’t ramble about technical features that nobody outside the marketing or product development teams would understand.
Duluth Trading also takes a “how to” approach in some ads, like the Longtail T-Shirt ads that explain how to fix plumber’s butt and how to un-plumber a butt.
Stories are all over the place.
Beyond the ads that everyone sees on TV, stories of Duluth Trading’s history and products – interesting, authentic stories – are everywhere on the Duluth website. On the page about Duluth’s history, listen to how they explain the product that put them on the map.
A little bit of innovation – just three extra inches of shirt body length – solved the age old, notorious and much feared problem known as Plumber’s Butt. Now thousands of guys who have to bend over when they work can stay in the good graces of their clients and fellow tradesmen.
Look at how this description of the Whaleback waterproof jacket starts:
The Whaleback Waterproof Jacket is the protection you’ll need when it’s colder than Hell. Hell, Michigan, that is. Last winter it froze over, setting a wind chill record of -27°F. There’s no better way to stay warm than our improved Whaleback Waterproof Jacket. Named for the Whaleback steamers that once shouldered aside wind, sleet and snow on the Great Lakes, this jacket is tough enough for any job without sacrificing the mobility you need.
Then it gets into the nylon shell with leaktight sealed seams, the Thinsulate insulation, wicking panels, and other features, all of which make more sense and are more relevant after reading the story.
Speaking of those product features…
Product features are meant for product descriptions, not ads.
If you watch five Duluth Trading ads, you might hear one product feature mentioned. Even the product descriptions are more about the story than the features, which are presented neatly in a bullet-point list in the sidebar.
But even those bullets aren’t completely dry and boring. Look at the first two bullets for the women’s No-Yank Tank:
- Stay-Put Fit won’t creep or bunch as you move
- A bit of extra length prevents baring your backside when you bend
Humor is used to sell the product, not to try to be funny.
During the Super Bowl, we see advertisers trying desperately to be funny so people will talk about them. Rarely does the humor have anything to do with the product being sold.
Duluth Trading gets it right by seamlessly weaving humor into its ads and website content in a way that enhances the message. It’s never forced. It never gets in the way. The humor is intertwined with the target audience’s pain points and desired outcome.
Taking it a step further, the use of animation offers unlimited creative freedom. This creates the ability to exaggerate to make a point, whether it involves getting attacked by a giant angry beaver or having a block of ice form around your underwear.
Interestingly, the ads for women’s products don’t use animation. Maybe it’s because they don’t require exaggeration to sell the benefits. They just show women wearing the products and working hard. They’re not as entertaining as the men’s ads, but the goal is to move merchandise, not entertain.
My Personal Top 5 Duluth Trading Company Ads
This is the most enjoyable research I’ve ever done for a blog post. It was tough to narrow it down, but I tried to focus on the ads that weren’t just funny, but effective at selling. Here’s my list.
5) Break Wind in the Shoreman’s Fleece
This is one of several ads that includes a play on words – “breaking wind in average fleece” – to suck you in. One ad for the Free Swingin’ Flannel starts with “swingin’ the rod in average flannel.” You get the idea. But like every other ad, it’s more than funny. It makes you feel what it’s like to be in cold weather with a jacket that’s not warm enough.
4) Wild Boar Mocs
This ad takes a different approach from the “here’s what sucks, here’s what’s awesome” formula. This one focuses on two key selling points – comfort and grip – and uses metaphors that exaggerate those points. A product feature is mentioned here, but as you see, it’s the metaphor that illustrates the real value of that feature.
3) Fire Hose Work Pants vs. A Giant Angry Beaver’s Brood
There were similar ads that involved a Hail Mary hog, a 644-pound wild boar, and a giant, angry beaver (minus the brood). I give this one the nod over the others but I’m not exactly sure why. When you’re in a rough environment, these pants can stand up to anything. But doesn’t the story in the ad make that statement in a much more compelling way?
2) Buck Naked Underwear
Anyone who has experienced the restrictions of tighty whiteys can relate to this, especially those who are in constant motion. The end result conveys the freedom of the Duluth product in the most powerful way possible, and in a way that’s consistent with the product name. Then it reminds you of the key selling points at the end.
1) Crouch Without the Ouch Ballroom Jeans
Again, anyone who has squatted with pants that were little snug between the legs knows this feeling. The metaphors are brilliant, with the crushed can feeling of average jeans and the gentle, hammock-like support of Duluth Trading Jeans. And Ballroom Jeans just might be the best and most descriptive product name ever.
To watch all their ads and videos, for entertainment or a lesson in effective advertising, check out the Duluth Trading Company YouTube page. Beware, you may feel the urge to buy something.