I’m used to brands chasing me. Like the maker of the sparkly shoes I abandoned in a cart, the one that stalks me as I move around the Internet. Reading an article, there they are. Checking out my friend's vacation pictures? Sparkly shoes are winking in the sidebar, like little actors determined to audition for a role in my closet. Even the other pair of sparkly shoes, the ones I DID buy, are tailing me.
That’s the reality of the world we live in. Brands aren’t sitting back waiting to be discovered. They’re trying to get in front of us, working up a sweat as they audition for the spotlight in our heads.
But you know who doesn’t have to work so hard? You know who walks right up and takes the stage? The brand that bravely starts a conversation about something that matters.
Dove has been doing this for over a decade with Real Beauty, a campaign that started as a research project and ended up tapping into a deeper, more meaningful conversation about what it means to be beautiful. This brand was able to elevate itself with a message that doesn’t feel like advertising. Really, I don’t have the bandwidth to remember why their product will make me look softer and smoother than someone else’s product. But why my girlfriends, my mother, my co-workers, and I all feel we have to look softer and smoother? That’s a pretty interesting topic.
Sure, Dove’s parent, Unilever, is trying to sell products—many of which are decidedly not about beauty, real or otherwise (think Axe). Still, the Dove brand has captured my imagination as it tackles important conversations that span everything from body image and self esteem to mother daughter relationships and online bullying.
Starbucks tried to do this recently too, and I will admit— here, in print — that I admire them for it. Okay, so maybe the Race Together campaign was awkward and ill-conceived. It was also brave. The idea that this ubiquitous brand, on a national, maybe even a global level, could get us all talking about race relations? Well, that’s powerful stuff. I haven’t a clue how to go about starting this conversation myself — I am as awkward as the barista forced to write “Race Together” on my cup — but I feel more aware of a need to try. And that’s something.
Today, another brand walked boldly up and stood on the stage in my head. I’ve never heard of Axosoft, a software developer based in Scottsdale, AZ. But the idea that I’ve been reading the universal symbol for women on public bathrooms all wrong, my whole life, blows my mind. Of course. The outline that looks like a person in a dress is actually the backside of a fantastic cape-wearing female superhero. We just need to turn her around. I can’t wait to show this graphic to my daughters. Because lo and behold, it was NEVER a dress.
That this ties back to Axosoft's Curator of Code, Tania Katan, and her vision of empowering women in technology is a huge bonus. That she designed this campaign to "shift perceptions and assumptions about women and the audacious, sensitive and powerful gestures they make every single day" is inspiring. That she managed to cut through the clutter and lead me to the Axosoft website to learn more about this company? Brilliant.
It’s not the brands chasing us with sparkly shoes that ultimately capture our attention. It’s the brands bravely donning the red cape to talk about something relevant and important that earn center stage.