In a campaign that kicked off nearly a year ago, Aerie, the sister brand of American Eagle, made a bold marketing move with their #aerieREAL campaign. Aerie, who markets lingerie and sleepwear to girls aged 15 – 21, took a stand against the unrealistic, over-photoshopped supermodel norm that populates the ad world. Its campaign featured unretouched photos of models that boasted the tagline, “The girl in this photo has not been retouched. The real you is sexy.” And going a step further, Aerie pledged, “We think it’s time for a change. We think it’s time to GET REAL and THINK REAL. We want every girl to feel good about who they are and what they look like, inside and out. ” And guess what—consumers ran with it. In the last quarter, Aerie saw a 9 percent increase in sales.
But for an especially body-image vulnerable audience, this campaign was more than a well-received marketing risk. It reignited some serious conversation about the way women’s body images are marketed, and it solidified the fact that brands have significant power in influencing social change.
But as marketers, how do we gauge when it’s OK to take a risk in our marketing strategy and when we should play it safe? It starts by listening—and understanding—what our consumers want.
We know the four Ps of marketing include product, price, place, and promotion, but maybe we should consider adding people. Today’s consumers, specifically the millennial generation, want to identify with a brand. They don’t want to be marketed to, they want to be a part of something. They want to be informed and involved. And if you can engage them with something they believe in, they will advocate for you.
Having this knowledge about today’s largest group of market consumers can help us weigh the risks of changing our marketing strategy. Will this campaign address current social issues and spark conversation? Will our target audience feel invested in us and stand with us? If you can answer yes to both of these questions, then you’re likely ready to step outside of your marketing comfort zone.
But be prepared. Taking risks will draw some skepticism about your motive. You have to back up your campaign with real life effort. Ten years ago when Dove launched its “Real Beauty” campaign, they were met with a fair amount of criticism regarding the authenticity of the message. Knowing that a product campaign simply wasn’t enough to influence change, Dove partnered with organizations like the Girl Scouts, Boys and Girls Club of America, and Girls, Inc. to form the Dove Self-Esteem Project. This project organizes activities that promote self-esteem, healthy body image, and anti-bullying.
Dove and Aerie took a risk in their marketing by going against the grain. They gave real women a chance to see, and identify with, real women. They used their products and their positions to take a stand. And they succeeded. Kudos to Dove and Aerie—and all the other marketing risk takers who’ve stood up to create change.
So, join in. Take a risk. It might just pay off in more ways than one.