How short-shorts brand Chubbies chats with mobile bros

Chubbies, the San Francisco apparel brand known for its thigh-baring men’s short-shorts, has been experimenting with sending push notifications through its mobile app for the past year. Rather than promotional product pushes or 10-percent-off codes, the Chubbies marketing team chose to make its messages, sent straight to app users’ phones, overtly conversational.

“One of our most well-received messages was three letters: ‘Hey,'” said Preston Rutherford, Chubbies’ co-founder.

Chubbies app users who received the nonchalant notification began screenshotting and sharing the photo on Twitter. Rutherford said that the message helped keep existing customers and app users engaged, and since they were compelled to share on social, it spread awareness to potential new customers.

The company doesn’t share how many downloads or active users its app has but sees 1.5 million followers across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. To send out its push notifications, Chubbies partnered with marketing platform Kahuna; CEO Adam Marchick said that push notifications can see far higher engagement than email blasts.

“Push notifications, done right, are so effective,” he said. “When Kahuna entered the market [in 2012,] it was all generic spam messages, but when you get them right, you can see a 60 percent opt-in rate and a 30 to 40 percent re-engagement rate. But they’re tricky.”

For most retailers testing push notifications, the default move is to send out digital coupons or fast-expiring promo codes meant to inspire the recipient to make a purchase. However, this hasn’t proven as effective as once thought. 

“The vast majority of push influence tends to be around advertising and deals or discounts,” said Jonathan Greene, vp and managing director at R/GA. “That’s not necessarily helpful. There has to be a mutual value exchange.”

At Chubbies, the value of the messages — which only relate directly to shorts when there’s a new product launch — is in maintaining face time with fans. Every brand wants to be “friends” with its consumer, and they usually fail, coming off as too contrived. But Chubbies’ weekend-driven brand mantra gives it a (bared) leg up over stuffier companies, as well as a way to connect with its customers by bonding over fast food, Fridays or nothing specific at all.

“We have a good feeling of who our customer is, so we’re trying to brighten their day in the best we can,” said Rutherford. “Our customers know we sell shorts and shirts for the weekend, so we don’t have to constantly say that. We just want to make them laugh and remind them we’re there. We’re not standoffish.”

Kahuna’s data showed Chubbies that its push notifications — which the brand fires off between one and three times per week — increased overall engagement with the app by 16 percent. One message, which read “Etslay Artpay” (sent on a Friday; that’s “Let’s Party” if you don’t speak Pig Latin or bro), increased conversions by 20 percent; a message with a quote from the movie “Point Break” increased conversions by 16 percent. 

Point Break chubbies_push_01
The “Point Break”-inspired push notification from Chubbies.

The app, which has a simple interface and features only a select few product collections at a time, uses the same buddy-buddy tone in its product descriptions. It’s also very easily shoppable, but according to Rutherford, that’s not the only goal of the mobile app.

“We’re trying to put a lot of time in on our end to make sure that even if you’re not interested in shorts right now, you’ll be interested in a laugh,” he said. “That assumption has been working so far.”

For a brand selling tiny, brightly colored shorts to bros, it’s probably best it doesn’t take itself too seriously.