'Stache Me Maybe: Justin Bieber and the Fake-Mustache Industrial Complex

They set up a Facebook page, had giveaways, and sent 'staches to Hollywood-types who seemed interested. It started slowly. But then a girl who received a free pair passed them off to Carlos Pena, and things started moving faster. (After the girl took credit, the company sent her a few more pairs.)

Sun-Staches are now showing up in unexpected places. In March, Aubrey Plaza of NBC's Parks and Recreation threw on a pair to walk the red carpet at the premiere of Will Ferrell's Casa De Mi Padre.

With more exposure to manage, Szymanowski saw his job mutate. Initially, he just compiled photos on the website. As things accelerated, he started spending more and more time on Facebook concocting promotions, and managing the brand's Twitter feed under his new persona, "Stache Man." He started pushing the hashtag "#MustacheSwag." And, recently, he's tried to popularize a new mustachioed emoticon— :3 .

"It's become a lot of work," Szymanowski says. "I'm a designer, first and foremost. But, to see my random idea morph into something unto itself—that's fun, too."

Sun-Staches are now showing up in unexpected places, and Szymanowski pounces on each photo op. In March, Aubrey Plaza of NBC's Parks and Recreation threw on a pair to walk the red carpet at the premiere of Will Ferrell's Casa De Mi Padre. Photos were picked up by celebrity blogs and teen-centric websites across the Internet. Worldwide Dynasty sent her more pairs.

"I don't know what traditional marketing is, really," says Levich. "If that means hiring a firm, and all that, I don't think we need it. These are not traditional products. So far, this guerrilla strategy has worked really well."

Of course, most Sun-Stache-wearing Beliebers still haven't heard of the Levich's company. But that's probably okay, says Hema Yoganarasimhan, a professor of marketing a the UC Davis Graduate School of Management: WorldWide Dynasty, intentionally or not, is undergoing what he calls a "cloaked" campaign. The result feels more organic and less engineered than a mainstream ad campaign. But in seeking to disappear, the company risks losing control over the information that starts to swirl around their product, and finding themselves stuck with a product that means something entirely different than what they had in mind.

"In terms of strategy it depends on what your goal is," Yoganarasimhan says. "If you are Gap and if you want 'everyone' to buy your product, a mainstream advertising strategy is necessary. If not, a social media-based 'cloaking' strategy would work great."

So far, the behind-the-scenes, freewheeling approach has worked for WorldWide Dynasty. While he wouldn't part with numbers, Levich says stores have seen a "big jump" in Sun-Stache sales, and that orders keep coming in ahead of schedule.

***

At an Urban Outfitters on New York's Upper West Side, a few pairs of Sun-Staches hang on raw wooden shelves above the store's unfinished concrete floor. The wall is sprinkled throughout with mustaches. There are mustache erasers ($3 for a pack of two) and "Stache Straws" ($12 for six). There are "Fingerstache Temporary Tattoos," which, when applied to the inside of the right index finger, can give the wearer the appearance of a facial hair whenever they choose simply by extending said finger above the upper lip. ("Add flair anywhere!" $5 for the set.) There are costume mustaches, too. One package contains a single, bendable option ($5), while two other options hold distinct sets of six different styles (these "Notable Mustache" products come in both "Classic" and "Character" collections, for $8). Other mustaches abound.

"We have tons of 'stache stuff over here," says one salesman working the floor, a man in his mid-20s. He's dressed in red flannel and has a six-inch thatch of frayed, red beard that mocks the slick side part he combs atop his head. He points to the Sun-Staches. "We sell a ton of these, mostly to teenagers, but some older people too," he says. "I'd also say they're one of the most stolen items in the store. I find the packaging ripped up and stuff in all sorts of places around here. Mustaches are a hip theme right now."

Another sales rep comes up, this one a younger guy, shaved clean and buttoned up.

"It drives me fuckin' crazy," he says in response. "I don't know where people get it in their head to buy this shit."

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Mark Dee is a writer living in Connecticut.

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