I Heart Bikinis – a lesson in irrational brand love

As a middle-aged mom who generally reacts negatively to activities and businesses that objectify women, I’m hardly the target audience for the regional sports bar and grill billing itself as the nation’s only Breastaraunt®.  However, as a student of branding and an admirer of gutsy marketing campaigns, I’m a big fan of how Bikinis started a crazy love affair with their customers. Recently, I sat down with Bikinis USA owner Doug Guller to learn how his team leveraged their light-hearted brand personality to create a one-of-a-kind campaign that might eventually become a textbook example of irrational brand love.   Last month, Bikinis launched their campaign “Bikinis Bleeds Blue” in which they offered their customers a $100 Bikinis bar tab in exchange for getting a tattoo of the Bikinis “B” logo somewhere on their body— and Bikinis would pay for it.  Is it crazy to think that a person could be so in love in a brand that he or she would be willing to get a memento of that brand permanently marked on their skin?  For posterity?  Forever?  With a bunch of big needles, permanent ink and BLOOD?   Apparently, for about 70 serious Bikinis fans, it’s not.  Learn more about this winning campaign in the following interview with Doug.

Deb:  Building a brand is really about getting people to fall in love with your brand. I want to talk about irrational brand loyalty. When I say that, what does that mean to you?

Doug:  Probably what is just uncommon for your average person, your everyday person walking down the street; if seems odd to them it would be “irrational.”

Deb:  I personally think the “Bikinis Bleeds Blue” campaign results might tell us a little about irrational loyalty. Where did the idea come from?

Doug:  My team came up with the campaign.  I didn’t think anyone would do it—but the team assured me that we would have a few people.  If a few people wanted to do it, it was worth it.  I was shocked at the response.  To date, around 60-70 people got a B tattoo on themselves.  Backs and arms.  A few ankles.  A Bikini waistline. That was, of course, a woman.

Deb: What did customers get in exchange for having a capital Bikinis B indelibly etched on their bodies for eternity?

Doug:  The exchange was that 1) we paid for it and, 2) we gave them a $100 gift card to their local Bikinis.  Interestingly, for something to be branded on them for the rest of their lives, we were out of pocket for about $200—and $100 of that was in trade!

Deb:  How did the campaign impact the Bikinis brand?

Doug:  What we generally go for is the feeling of making people smile or laugh. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. Our value proposition is our service and our food. As you know, we call ourselves a “Breastaurant”— to be in that space, you can’t take yourself too seriously.  You have to offer something to the general public that is light hearted.  When we go for our PR stunts, we generally want to put a smile on people’s faces and get them to laugh out loud.  The Bikinis world is very polarizing.  It draws a response right away.  When we do this kind of branding campaign, it’s for people to say “oh, they’re at it again” or to be just top of mind with folks.

Deb:  So, what kind of person tattoos a logo on their body in exchange for perks?

Doug:  That’s a hard question to answer.  I only met a few down here in Austin the day of the event.  They are frequent customers or “fans” of Bikinis.  They were male.  The girls who got them were all employees who have all been with us for a while. They are all excited about the brand. They have a sense of belonging.  They know us; they have made a lot of friends by sitting around the bar over the years.

Deb:  What does it say about a person that they are a hardcore fan of Bikinis – or that they have a big blue B tattooed on their arm?

Doug:  It says they want a sense of belonging to some kind of brand or tribe or group.  They are usually sports enthusiasts. This fits in with their personal tastes.

We focus on 4 things:  food, booze, sex and sports. Our fans generally love one of those or all four things.  They want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.

Deb:  What were you trying to achieve from the Bikinis Bleeds Blue campaign?

Doug:  Without sounding like a broken record—there wasn’t that much thought other than a few a comments from the media saying “that’s crazy!”  We were doing partly for our own reasons:  we wanted to give our really excited fans something they wanted, and I wanted to see where our brand could go.  When I started this 7 years ago, I didn’t realize people would be so into us that they’d have a B permanently marked on their bodies for the rest of their lives!

Deb:  So, what will you do next?

Doug:  Bikinis Texas officially opens for good in January. We are doing a big contest called “Miss Bikinis USA” in the Spring.  We will have different than a pageant contest: ours will be more “fun factor meets Texas hill country.”  We’ll have girls shooting guns and doing a variety of fun things, eating things they don’t want to.   This kind of pageant fits with our brand of not taking ourselves too seriously.  Fans will love it.

Deb:   If you can, please sum up in a sentence or two what your key takeaways were from this experience.

Doug:  It’s been about pushing the limits and putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable to people criticizing us.  My advice: if you feel confident in your brand, and you realize you only have one life to live—go for it. There’s no reason not to.  As long as you feel like it will advance your brand, then it’s great. We always think: “how is this different than what everyone else is doing?” That’s our litmus test.  A lot of restaurants don’t have the kind of following we do.  That’s why we are traveling down this road.