In 2004, Dove launched its Campaign for Real Beauty, empowering women of all shapes and sizes to feel attractive, even if they don't fit into the ideals set by society. They used diverse models of all body types with a particular focus on curvaceous women--opening a dialogue about what real beauty is.
The company has been extremely successful with this messaging and has launched subsequent campaigns that are generating social good; building healthy self-esteem in young women when it comes to their looks.
When a marketing campaign can sell product and simultaneous leave a positive impact on society, it's obviously a win/win. A campaign like this not only shows the company in a positive light, but also generates an ongoing conversation. The more complex this conversation, the better the chance for audience engagement. In Dove's case, the conversation has been going on now for over a decade!
Following in Dove's footsteps, underwear company Dear Kate is not only supporting the eradication of narrow beauty ideals, but the way women are perceived as individuals. Founder Julie Sygiel was tired of seeing cookie cutter underwear ads where the models appeared to be seeking the approval of others. Though she's in an aesthetically driven industry, she doesn't cast her models based on their physical appearance.
As part of Dear Kate's marketing, each line of underwear is named after a famous woman in history--The Amelia Collection is named after fearless female pilot Amelia Earhart, the Ella Collection is named after jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald, and so on. Sygiel's models are hired for their personal accomplishments that align with the underwear's namesake. For example, The Ella Collection featured Indie Songstress Mary Beth Doran as the model and The Amelia was represented by a group of daring female acrobats. Rather than the overly sexualized pictures of underwear models that we come to expect, Dear Kate's ads featured these accomplished women in their underwear, doing what they do best: working at their craft.
No one found musicians or acrobats in their underwear controversial. But when Julie and her team decided to name their next line after famous female mathematician Ada Lovelace, things started to get interesting.
They handled the Ada Collection the same as they did with all of their campaigns: they cast models that honored the name. In this case, it was six admired female tech executives.
While women in tech is a hot button in the media because of the gender biases in the industry, that truly wasn't on Sygiel's mind. She respected these women for their brains and believed without a doubt that they were her perfect models.
Dear Kate launched the Ada Collection on their website--complete with the photo shoot of the tech models. They also sent out an email blast to their subscribers and posted to their social channels--just like they always did. Twenty-four hours later, they received a call from Time wanting to interview Julie. The next day, the article came out, labeling the ads as being controversial (with an overtone that they possibly promote sexism).
Julie and her colleagues took this hard. Their goal was to empower women and they didn't find the ads controversial at all. In fact, they believed that women should be able to wear what they want without being sexualized; no matter how a woman is dressed, it should never take anything away from her brain.
Their response to the controversy? To post social media pictures of themselves (Julie included) working from their underwear with the hashtag #notcontroversial. They made their database of fans aware of the negative things the media was saying and encouraged them to post their own pictures if they agreed. And they did.
The social media campaign was overwhelming. Four days after the Time article, Dear Kate was inundated with press calls and were featured in SELF, Buzzfeed, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others--in a very positive way this time.
This campaign was extremely effective because they took a hot social issue and opened up a dialogue about it. It also came with its fair share of haters who not only didn't agree with the way the campaign was done, they didn't see how it sells underwear. Naysayers come with the territory of having a good conversation. Many said negative things about the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge--"This is stupid. Why are we dumping ice on our head when we should just donate?" Well, after mass public awareness of the disease and over 100 million dollars in donations generated from that campaign, it's pretty clear that it was, in fact, not stupid.
Through the controversy, Dear Kate was catapulted into major success, winning diehard fans amongst their target demographic. As the conversation continues, they faithfully stand by their original messaging--to glorify women for who they are and what they can do.