At the most basic level, ads encourage consumers to buy a product or service that often leads to some kind of change in their lives. From the mundane: switch to a new deodorant to stay fresh and dry. To the radical: become part of a wellness community, like goop, to find the best products (sometimes curated by Gwyneth Paltrow herself) and to become better versions of themselves.
Good brands guide their audiences through changes by telling emotional stories that relate to the moments that shape their lives and identities. They titillate and inspire audiences through attention-grabbing messages that beckon them to dream, imagine, learn or simply accept themselves in this age of body positivity and inclusivity. In the past few years, we’ve seen more and more brands taking on and expressing philosophies and values, even pushing for societal changes, that resonate with their audiences.
Some brands change incrementally over time, growing and evolving with their audiences. They’re timeless, yet they evolve to stay relevant – brands like LEGO, Apple and Coca-Cola. Sometimes, all a brand needs to do is evolve to amplify values that already exist or to express those values a little differently.
Others revolutionize on a frequent basis, like Nike, Gucci and other top fashion brands. They push boundaries and challenge the status quo. They’re responsive to their audiences and quick to respond to changes in the world. They are influencers on Instagram, disruptors like adidas and trailblazers like Dove with its “Real Beauty” campaign or Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty with its 40-shade foundation range (named one of TIME’s Best Inventions of 2017).
For marketers, creatives and brand strategists, the challenge is to fine-tune a brand’s identity and communications so that changes feel authentic, not forced. Dialing in a brand involves understanding how it needs to respond to its audience at any given point in time, on a range from evolution to revolution.
Probably the most extreme brand turnaround, or reinvention, in recent history is happening with Victoria’s Secret. The brand faces fading into obscurity without massive change. It’s undergoing a revolutionary transformation to redefine itself and the idea of what “sexy” is, moving from a brand based on exclusivity to one that’s more inclusive. Victoria’s Secret is playing catch-up to embrace what many lingerie and beauty brands already understand: women are tired of living up to Barbie bodies and more interested in radical self acceptance, in celebrating achievements instead of “Angel-worthy” physiques.
What’s more, research shows that millennials respond to marketing that’s relevant and authentic, and reflects the diversity they see in their communities. That’s significant, considering that millennials represent the consumer market of the future, spending more than a trillion dollars per year in the United States alone and surpassing baby boomers in 2019 as the largest living adult population.
It may be time to take a look at your brand and ask if it reflects changes in the world and what matters to your audience today.