The bizarre case of the sexy butt-flap onesie that has taken over the internet

Kate Taylor
IVRose
What are these PJs are why are they following me around the internet? IVRose
  • People are being plagued by an ad for a sexy butt-flap onesie from unknown fast-fashion brand IVRose following them around the internet —including taking center stage in a recent blockbuster Elle article.

  • Experts say that the ad feels like it is everywhere because of a mix of brand safety miscalculations, re-targeting marketing strategies, and the fact that the strange and sexual ad sticks with viewers.  

  • "The reality is we all see the same weird ads all the time but they don't capture our attention like this one," said StitcherAds cofounder Conor Ryan.

  • IVRose appears to be a fast-fashion brand backed by a Chinese manufacturer, aiming to cash in by selling directly to consumers, according to experts. 

  • The brand declined to comment on the ad, telling Business Insider: "sorry, we can't help you." 

  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

Stephanie Clifford's blockbuster story about Martin Shkreli's relationship with a former Bloomberg journalist raised countless questions when it dropped on Sunday night. 

One of the top queries: Why they hell was everyone reading the article being bombarded with ads for bottomless pajamas? 

Many readers reported seeing ad after ad for butt-flap PJs made by fashion brand IVRose. The ad is meant to promote the Plain Functional Buttoned Flap Adults Pajamas, priced at $26.99 (with a wealth of discounts available if you buy more than one pair). 

I was among the many people who was confronted with the ad when I was reading the story in Elle on Sunday. As I saw others reveal that they had also been served the butt-flap PJ ad, I decided it was time to dive deeper into the world of ass-less pajamas.

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Why was everyone getting the same ad in the Elle article? Why had this ad started popping up elsewhere around the internet more recently? And, who is even selling these bizarre nightclothes? 

After talking with six experts in advertising, retail, and ecommerce, I was able to mostly solve the case of the butt-flap pajama ad. The butt-flap PJs managed to take over the internet through a combination of wonky brand safety measures, a few marketing strategies including provocative sexual imagery, and a good amount of luck. 

"It may just be a happy accident for them, or it may be part of some sort of a strategy - one doesn't know," Greg Sterling, the vice president of Insights at online marketing company Uberall, said. "But, it's pretty hard to engineer a viral ad." 

Here are the answers to the biggest questions raised by these absurd ass-less PJs. 

How did this ad takeover Elle's bombshell Shkreli story?

The first thing I tried to figure out was how this ad ended up in the middle of the Elle article in the first place. With so many people pouring over the article, an unknown fashion brand could not be the only brand trying to advertise, right? 

According to the co-founder of Check My Ads Nandini Jammi, brand safety company DoubleVerify had marked the article as "unsafe." This is supposed to keep ads from appearing on offensive content itself. But, Jammi said, these companies often flag articles that simply report on matters that could be offensive. As a result, Jammi theorized, brands that work with brand safety companies had their ads pulled from the article, leaving an opening for IVRose. 

"Most of the big brands have effectively forfeited their place on this article," Jammi told me. "That opens up the way for brands or advertisers who have less of a risk threshold. They're okay with their ads being on potentially unsafe sites, because they would rather just get a higher volume out."

"They kind of flood the market, " Jammi added. "When the bigger brands don't want to be on a site, they get the same real estate for a lower cost." 

Sterling said that this ad was likely "next in line" after the higher-quality ads were blocked.  

"It's not completely the bottom of the barrel, but it is sort of trending toward that," Sterling said. 

Greg March, the CEO of the media agency Noble People, said that the Elle article was emblematic of the way online media companies sell ads. Bigger stories create more ad units to sell, with media companies quickly running out of premium buyers for news - leaving just the programmatic low bidders.

"Advertisers allocate their media budgets way before they know what the news is gonna be," March said. "So when a story hits most advertisers aren't set up to say 'I want my ad on that story.'" 

So, that solves the question of why the Elle article was filled with ads for butt-flap pajamas instead of major, well-known brands. But, why was it only the pajamas? 

Why am I personally seeing this ad?

 

This question is also puzzling experts. Typically, it would be strange for every single person to get served the same online ad, as usually such marketing is based on people's past behavior online. 

"It is quite unusual as most online ads are based on cookies or tracking so they are targeted," GlobalData managing director Neil Saunders told me in an email.

The vast number of people seeing the ad makes it seem as if there is no targeting in place. However, Dr. Krzysztof Franaszek, founder of ad tracking and targeting company Adalytics, said that is not actually the case.

IVRose uses 18 ad trackers, sets nine third-party cookies, and uses adtech services from companies including TikTok-owner Bytedance, Twitter, Facebook, and Google, Franaszek wrote in an Adalytics blog post on Monday. Franaszek also noted that new Chrome profiles and people who clear all third party cookies do not see the Ivrose onesie ad, even on the Elle website. 

"It is therefore likely that Google or some other ad tech company is classifying the elle.com article as being related to Adult content or subjects, and is targeting users who visit articles like this one with adult like content, including the Ivrose ad," Franaszek wrote. 

If you saw the IVRose ad, Franaszek told me, you likely did something online that made Google or some other tech company believe you're seeking out "adult" content. It seems to be very broad targeting, Sterling said - but, it is targeting all the same.  

Why won't the PJ butt-flap ad leave me alone? 

 

The PJ ad seems to have taken over the internet because of a mix of IVRose's broad targeting strategy and the ad itself being more memorable than most. 

The butt cheek peeking out of the PJs grabs people's attention. And, with people on Twitter discussing the ad, it is more likely to register the next time you see it. 

"The reality is we all [see] the same weird ads all the time but they don't capture our attention like this one - which personifies the issue," according to Conor Ryan, the co-founder of the social media advertising platform StitcherAds. "It's a classic symptom of the spray and pray aspects of display advertising."

There's another reason that Franaszek says that it feels like the PJ ad is everywhere: IVRose's retargeting strategy. 

"Ivrose uses remarketing services from Google - if you visit their website, you will drastically increase your chances of seeing one of their ads," Franaszek wrote in the blog post. 

Remarketing, also called retargeting, is a popular strategy in online advertising that shows you the same item over and over again, or repeatedly shows you items related to past online behavior. It can be incredibly effective, or incredibly annoying, depending on if you want to actually buy the item. 

To sum it all up: the PJ ad seems to be everywhere because it is memorable, and because if you see it once you are more likely to see it again. Still, multiple experts told me, the only way to really know why that butt-flap PJ ad is everywhere is by asking the brand behind the ad. 

Who is the mastermind behind the ad? 

chicme
The exact same butt-flap PJs appear on ChicMe. chicme

Unfortunately, IVRose was not willing to reveal its secrets. I reached out to IVRose's Facebook page on Sunday evening, saying I was a writer for Business Insider who wanted to know more about the strategy behind the PJ ads. 

I received the response: "sorry, we can't help you." 

This was followed by an apparently automated message: "Thank you for your enquiry! We will close the conversation now, you are welcome to contact us again anytime. Bye!" 

IVRose appears to be one of a number of nearly identical fast-fashion brands, owned by the same company - Shanghai Jigao Information Technology Co., Ltd., according to the brand's Facebook page. Other brands, such as ChicMe and Joyshoetique, are selling the same clothing items, with the same model, at the same price point. 

Joyshoetique
The same PJs, this time on Joyshoetique. Joyshoetique

If you get fast-fashion ads on social media or websites, this probably sounds like a familiar story. 

"These are what I would call 'opportunity brands' that have a very short life span," StitcherAds' Ryan said. "They can setup the 'business' in a week and tear it down just as quickly. They are not trying to establish a long term brand. They are trying to rapidly sell low-quality products at really high margins." 

According to Saunders, IVRose is likely one of many brands that are backed by a Chinese manufacturer, aiming to cash in on selling directly to consumers. 

"Digital advertising plays a key role in drumming up demand as most of these brands are not well known by consumers and have no physical presence," Saunders said. 

Are these PJs even real? 

ivrose
What is going on with this wine glass? IVRose

Looking at IVRose's site after a day of talking to experts, I was struck by a new question - even if I bought these butt-flap PJs, would they ever arrive? 

The wonky wine glass on IVRose's front page made me concerned about just how much PhotoShop was going on. And, as Vice reported on Monday, the photo used to sell the PJs appears to be a slightly altered photo from the website of lingerie brand Yandy. Chris Turk, a representative for Yandy told Business Insider in an email that the onesie is "is completely exclusive to Yandy." 

"IVRose lifted images from Yandy's website, photoshopped new patterns, and began running ads with them," Turk said. "When Yandy told IVRose to stop using counterfeit imagery, they photoshopped a different model's head over the stolen images. This has been an ongoing issue for Yandy."

BuzzFeed reported in 2016 that it was common for fashion brands with opaque backgrounds to steal pictures online to sell clothing that frequently failed to live up to expectations. 

"Consumers should be conscious that the products may not be of the best quality and that making returns may be difficult," Saunders said. 

However, after 24 hours of obsessing over this butt-flap PJ, that was a risk I was willing to take. Reviewers on IVRose's website seem to be enjoying the onesies that they purchased, with 336 reviewers giving it a four-and-a-half star rating.

I decided that the only way I would really know what was up with the ass-less pajamas was if I purchased them myself. So, I ordered a pair of medium pajamas. And, I'm not the only one - one of my colleagues asked if I could order her a pair as well, and Jammi told me she was also eyeing the price of the PJs. 

"It feels like whoever's running their marketing is a secret genius to me," Jammi said. 

Patrick Coffee contributed reporting to this article. 

This article has been updated with a comment from Yandy.

Read the original article on Business Insider