Be Brave or Be Invisible

We work with a lot of new luxury brands and from what we’ve seen, being new comes with a common tendency toward “playing it safe.” However, in fashion and beauty – two incredibly saturated markets that live and die by the ability of visual content to draw in audiences – safety is death. As a new brand, with no established name or reputation, creating visual content that blends into the crowd is the worst thing you can do. How will anyone know you exist or that they should pay attention if you don’t stand out?

Even the Mainstream is Brave

Every beauty and fashion brand is fighting for recognition and differentiation from their competitors, with the luxury market competing at another level entirely. So, new brands in the higher end to luxury categories need to fight ten times harder and bring something new and different to the table. Companies we’ve talked to who feel the urge to “tone it down” often reference brands like Target and GAP as the non-threatening brands because they associate them with having mass commercial appeal. However, both brands have actually made strides in diversity, choosing a variety of looks and even body types for their ads. Importantly, they recognize that they can no longer market to America with exclusively blonde-haired, blue-eyed models, or with one token minority who has remarkably “white” features.

In fact, GAP is known for making political statements with its brand. They have taken a visible stance for diversity in race and sexual orientation. The company uses models from various ethnic backgrounds and with less typical features. They also represent same-sex couples in their ads, as in their #WearYourPride campaign in partnership with the UN. Why? Because they sell to America and America is not just changing, it’s changed. If new brands don’t (at minimum) reflect that, then they are out of touch at launch, and that’s difficult to recover from.

Brand Authenticity is Important

What really gets me is when owners and designers of a brand represent diversity themselves or are genuinely passionate about specific issues, but they hold back to appeal to an imagined customer base in “middle America.” First, as someone with a large chunk of family living in Iowa, I don’t think these folks are giving middle America enough credit. Second, holding back one's voice and perspective to avoid upsetting people will never help them find their tribe of loyal followers. It will never earn them recognition – good or bad - and will result in building a brand that doesn’t fully represent who they are – which is perhaps one of the saddest results we’ve witnessed. Can you name a brand that constantly towed the line and picked up major press for it? Neither can I.

As Rob Lenois so brilliantly puts it in a must-read article for creatives:

“Bravery isn’t optional; it’s the price of entry for brands as people’s expectations rise and attention becomes harder to capture.”

"Beauty in Darkness" featuring Whitney Wagner