In the traditional world of advertising, there are three types of clients: 

1. those with vast sums of money to spend; 

2. those who offer great creative opportunities; 

3. and then there’s everyone else.

At first I thought that a company like Calendar Girls (a high class strip tease venue in case you didn’t know) fell into the second category. How wrong I was. The truth is that Calendar Girls has some unique creative challenges that most marketers would struggle with. 

I recently met with Jacqui Le Prou, the Director of Calendar Girls, and asked her a few questions about how the brand is growing and how her distinctive approach to marketing has helped to fuel this growth. I wanted to know how she copes with the obstacles that her brand encounters everyday and still comes out smiling. 


Let’s start with the fact that Calendar Girls can’t show their product in any of their advertising. You wont see any gargantuan billboards on the motorway or full-page ads in the Herald showing off semi-naked, beautiful women, wearing sexy, seductive lingerie because it just wouldn’t be tolerated. Strange then that a lingerie brand like Bendon, which is also built around sex, seduction and power, does exactly that and gets away with it. 

Take a look at this borderline pornographic ad for Bendon’s Elle Macpherson Intimates range:

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Calendar Girls would never (ever) get away with showing anything as revealing and risqué as this in any mainstream publication. And if they did, the village idiots would be marching down K-Road, flaming torches and pitchforks in hand, chanting “Who’s gonna save the children? We are!” 

And then there’s the intense scrutiny Calendar Girls is always under. New Zealand’s many media watchdogs always closely inspect Calendar Girls’ advertising, and there’s just no chance that they’d be able to get away with anything remotely controversial. Which doesn’t make much sense given that Calendar Girls is already seen by many as being controversial. So while companies like Hell, Tui and Libra can actively court controversy for the financial benefit of their brand, Calendar Girls can’t.

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So how do you market and advertise a company like Calendar Girls when you’re so restricted that you can’t even show your product? And more importantly, what can we learn from what they do?

It boils down to the simplest of things: the customer experience. 

When I interviewed Jacqui Le Prou, she was adamant that the experience was everything. She went on to say: “I want to give my customers the best possible experience they can ever have. If they come to Calendar Girls and have a terrible experience, they tell everyone they know, yet if the customer has an amazing experience he might only tell a handful of people.” Jacqui knows that word of mouth is vital for the success of her business and that it starts with the experience her customers have. 

Now let’s leave the strip tease world for a moment and look at the customer experience in another environment, such as the hardware industry. I think we can all agree that the hardware industry offers an awful experience at best. From the infinite amount of parity products to the endless miles of maze-like aisles, coupled to the underpaid and unmotivated staff, the in-store experience in the hardware industry is totally unsatisfying. The vast acres that places like Bunnings and Mitre 10 occupy are as bland as the dark side of the moon, and the only time customers ever have a great experience there is when they leave. Yet these companies spend millions of dollars on advertising every year to get customers into their stores, just so they give them a below average experience. In fact Mitre 10 and Bunnings spent over $65 million dollars combined on advertising in 2012. Did this immense amount of money change their customer’s in-store experience? Not in the slightest.

Back at Calendar Girls, Jacqui Le Prou knows that no amount of money spent on advertising will change how people perceive her business. As she puts it: “the stereotype is there and people will think what they want to think and no amount of money can change that.”

For Calendar Girls, and so many other businesses in New Zealand, it will always boil down to the customer experience, and that’s awesome news for marketers who want to change the status quo! Almost everything in the retail environment can be controlled and manipulated to make the customer experience something worth talking about, and this makes it an essential marketing tool. I’m not just talking about the in-store experience either – the way customers experience your products and your brand after the purchase is just as important, if not more so. 

Keep this in mind and always consider that in our connected world, one person’s bad experience can become everyone’s bad experience, but a good experience can create someone who actively promotes your brand: an evangelist. What’s that worth to you?