Exposing Your Boxers

Intended to prevent unintended "fall-out,” Ubatuba boxer shorts need clever, offbeat promotion to gain exposure. (Credit: Shannon May/SF Chronicle) Brian Alessi, a high school biology teacher, wants to change the face of boxer shorts — literally. But he will have to do it using the tried-and-true techniques of marketing PR because he lacks the budget or brand power to gain attention.

Alessi is off to a good start. The San Francisco Chronicle ran a full-page article in its Sunday edition about his "21st century" briefs, which include added layers for better absorption, a pocket for credit cards and a fly shifted one inch to the right. Alessi's quest to improve men's underwear was inspired by watching his dad, a dentist, walk around the house in just his boxers. His design has earned a U.S patent.

Named Ubatuba, after a Brazilian beach resort, Alessi's underwear solves problems vexing men for decades, or longer.  "The traditional fly-in-the-middle design is stupid," Alessi says, noting his off-center design prevents unintended "fall out." Extra fabric in the front, he adds, addresses a common problem experienced by any man "who ever wore khaki trousers." The credit card holder serves the same purpose as a woman's bra to hold valuables where a street thief might feel squeamish to look.

Alessi sunk his entire life savings into his underwear enterprise. Now his challenge is to get the word out about his hip boxers.

With limited cash, Alessi turned to contacting reporters and bloggers, asking them to give his briefs a try. Free-lancer Steve Rubenstein did, liked how they felt and wrote a story, which made its way to the Sunday Style section of the SF Chronicle. The full-page piece then earned online mentions on Twitter and Facebook.

However, Alessi may not be doing all he can to capitalize on his earned media exposure. His website is mostly an electronic brochure, lacking the sparkle and wit Rubenstein infused into his article. In fact, there isn't even an online newsroom to include articles such as Rubenstein's that could serve as lively testimonials to the benefits of his boxers.

Video is another obvious choice for a subject like underwear. Alessi has a YouTube video that lacks the pizzazz or humor viewers would expect from an underwear video. Even the lackluster video cannot be found on the Ubatuba website.

In the near term, Alessi won't have the millions needed to mount an effective advertising campaign, so using clever and offbeat ideas to gain attention is his only chance to, as it were, break out. Here are some ideas:

  • He could generate buzz by appearing on a late-night talk show wearing only his patented boxers to "demonstrate" their functionality.

  • He could go on ABC's popular "Shark Tank" to convince investors such as Mark Cuban to give his boxers a boost.

  • Alessi could design a special edition pair of boxers for Charlie Sheen to wear on his new highly rated comedy, then exploit the celebrity usage through media pitches.

  • He could create a waggish Pinterest page where women could post pictures of their favorite guy wearing Ubatubas.

You don't need actors dressed up like fruit to sell underwear. It will sell itself if you unleash your creativity and, so to speak, set your pants on fire.