June 16, 2012 -- Folks can't seem to get enough of jocks in their skivvies.
The advertising tradition that first raised eyebrows three decades ago when Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer bared some flesh in his Jockey briefs, is evolving into something closer to a bona fide free-for-all.
Basketball hunk Dwight Howard is now showing up in Adidas ads for its new line of performance underwear. A few months ago, quarterback Cam Newton appeared in his Under Armour briefs on a Times Square billboard. Earlier this year, soccer star David Beckham not only rolled out his own line of underwear for H&M, but flaunted it in a revealing Super Bowl spot. And quarterback Tim Tebow, of course, is now Jockey's go-to spokesjock.
But the target of these ads isn't just guys, it's gals, too. Women make more than 40% of male underwear purchases, says industry giant Jockey. "The woman is the gatekeeper when it comes to all things underwear," says New York ad consultant Allison Cohen.
But men's underwear sales have taken a hit since the recession, falling to $3.2 billion last year from a high of $3.7 billion in 2007. The question is, will putting jocks in Jockeys help boost sales of briefs?
Among the well-buffed spokesjocks:
•Dwight Howard. Wearing nothing but $20 briefs, the Orlando Magic star appears in new promos for the Adidas Flex 360 men's performance underwear. "It's cool to be featured in a marketing campaign in nothing but your undies," Howard says.
Most athletes wouldn't be comfortable in underwear ads, says Chris Grancio, head of global basketball sports marketing for Adidas. "But Dwight is an extrovert who loves to be in front of the camera — even in his underwear."
•Cam Newton. In April, Newton wore nothing but boxers in an eye-catching digital billboard at New York's Times Square that said, "Cam Newton doesn't wear underwear." That ad evolved into the next billboard that read, "He wears the Under Armour Boxerjock." The collection, which sells for $20 to $30, is among the first Under Armour products sold at Macy's.
•David Beckham. The David Beckham Bodywear line for H&M was launched in February with a racy Super Bowl spot featuring the soccer star in all shades of undress. "Our customers see David is one of the best-dressed men in the world," says H&M spokeswoman Marybeth Schmitt.
The partnership is for two years, she says, noting that a new Beckham campaign will launch in the fall.
•Tim Tebow. For Jockey, signing Tim Tebow back in 2010 has been like the second coming — of sales.
Over the past year, the star quarterback has primarily been used to promote Jockey's new, premium Staycool line of T-shirts and briefs. For the Jockey brand, which has been around since 1876, "This is by far the biggest and most successful launch in Jockey's history," says Dustin Cohn, chief marketing officer.
As far as just creating buzz, says Cohn, the number of Jockey's Facebook fans and Twitter followers has quadrupled since signing Tebow.
•Michael Jordan. Jordan has appeared in about 30 Hanes underwear ads over the past two decades — but never in boxers. He does, however, don undershirts.
In new ads, Jordan helps Hanes get rid of annoying underwear tags. "Extensive consumer testing has shown that Mr. Jordan's presence in Hanes advertising contributes to sales growth for the brand," says David Robertson, director marketing, Hanes brand.
•Rafael Nadal. The tennis champ appeared in sexy Emporio Armani underwear ads in 2011, and soccer star Cristiano Ronaldo appeared in 2010. Armani won't say why, but it has recently nixed the use of spokesjocks in its underwear ads in favor of models.