Updated: Nov 23, 2021
News flash — We want to know brands care. And it’s not enough for a brand to just say it. They need to prove it. If brands aren’t using their powers for good, we’re more inclined than ever to spend our dollars elsewhere.
If your brand doesn’t stand for something, how can we relate to it?
These days, it’s more important than ever for your brand to have context, personality, and depth. Take a stance. Do something edgy. Or fade away into obscurity. You have options.
To inspire you, we’ve compiled a list of 10 brands that are doing cool stuff. Whether their marketing is provocative, sustainable, inclusive, funny, timely, or innovative (or all of the above!), we’re super into what they’ve got going on.
Why: Ugh, we adore Patagonia. As far as brands go, Patagonia feels like that activist friend who continually impresses you with their morals, stamina, and follow through. Because of this, they manage to connect with their customers on a heady level, generating major brand loyalty. Even if you don’t wear their pricey outwear, you likely know what they’re all about. Patagonia has run a plethora of genius marketing campaigns by focusing on environmental sustainability efforts. Their whole concept is that their products are built to last, so when you purchase their garments, they should theoretically last you forever.
And Patagonia walks the walk — with panache! They donate a portion of their revenue to a wide variety of environmental causes, use recycled “Fair Trade” organic material, and utilize solar energy at their headquarters in Ventura. They’re also one of the founders of the Sustainable Apparel Coalition, a group of companies that have promised to reduce their environmental footprints.
Patagonia uses their clout in the industry to pull big moves, such as boycotting the colossal Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City when Utah passed a bill to transfer federal lands to the state in 2017. Patagonia even went so far as to sue the U.S. government (and former president Trump) when they tried to reduce Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument by almost 50% and the Bears Ears National Monument by 85%.
Furthermore, Patagonia is a founding member of the Fair Labor Association, which holds apparel companies accountable to responsible labor practices, in an industry where garment workers are often severely underpaid and overworked.
You’ve surely heard of their “Buy Less, Demand More” campaign, which debuted about a decade ago on Black Friday. Patagonia addressed how many brands push green, sustainable and conscientious lines of clothing but realistically, “... the least environmentally damaging garment is the one that is already hanging in your wardrobe.” They provide 35 repair centers around the world and have a slew of repair guides and tips on their website.
Their “Don’t Buy This Jacket” tagline was then popularized as part of the “Buy Less, Demand More” movement. Since then, Patagonia has begun to resell used gear on their “Worn Wear” site in 2017. According to Ryan Gellert, their chief executive, “Buying a used garment extends its life on average by 2.2 years, which reduces its carbon, waste, and water footprint by 73 percent.”
And if we already weren’t on Team Patagonia, they really woo’d us with their recent “Vote The Assholes Out” campaign (yeah, that happened!), where they added this literal tag(line) to a collection of shorts in 2020 — “because we have been standing up to climate deniers for almost as long as we’ve been making these shorts.” Preach!
Why: The movement for makeup to be all inclusive isn’t new. Makeup is for everyone — gender, race and sexual orientation be damned. And Sephora is committed to promoting that notion. Their motto is to “celebrate our differences” by championing all beauty and by living with courage. Sephora proclaims that “even if [they] stumble,” they’ll never stop building a community where diversity is expected, self expression is honored and all are welcome.
In 2020, Sephora pledged to start carrying more Black-owned brands. Since then, they’ve doubled their assortment and achieved a 15% benchmark in the hair-care category. They’re also commissioned a first ever large-scale study on Racial Bias in Retail with an action plan aimed to mitigate said bias in order to enhance their BIPOC clientele’s well being and shopping experience at their stores.
Sephora has also attempted to “broaden [their] content for diverse audiences and underserved communities” in the beauty industry by increasing Spanish-language content across their social platforms, adding closed-captioning to their IGTV content, designing an influencer program with diverse voices and running a social media campaign to celebrate “stories of belonging” by their clients and employees.
They also collaborate with nonprofits and charities through a reward point system, where customers can donate their points to a variety of philanthropic efforts and organizations.
Why: Their latest ad campaign couldn’t be more on the nose, unless it was printed on a KN95. Their commercials poke fun at the shitstorm of a year we’ve had, featuring a budding romance between Satan and his new boo, a cute brunette who goes by “2020.” The couple skip through empty cityscapes a la Vanilla Sky, stealing overflowing armfuls of toilet paper rolls, enjoying the solitude of public spaces like gyms and movie theaters (while the rest of us are presumably huddled in our homes, quarantining) and snapping selfies in front of a flaming dumpster.
At the end of the bit, Satan sighs that he “never wants this year to end.”
Too soon? We think not. This was just the timely, tone-deaf hilarity that we needed, all while specifically addressing pandemic induced loneliness and promoting their online dating app. At least we know someone was enjoying 2020. And at the end of the (longest) year (of our collective lives), love wins!
Why: This umbrella brand is a leading global hygiene and health company, including sub brands Bodyform, Libresse, Nana, Nuvenia, Saba, and Nosotras. They’ve been pushing back against period stigma for years and are “committed to breaking the taboos that hold women back” in order to “create more understanding in the world.” Libresse put out an award winning #bloodnormal campaign debuted in 2017, followed by their powerful yet whimsical Viva La Vulva campaign the following year.
Then in 2020, Bodyform & Libresse released “their boldest campaign to date,” with #wombstories. In the stunning #wombstories video, Bodyform & Libresse “push back against the simplistic narrative girls are taught from a young age: start your period in adolescence, repeat with "a bit" of pain, want a baby, get pregnant, have more periods, stop periods, fade into the menopausal background.”
This campaign blew us away a bit, although it really shouldn’t. While society largely ignores addressing women’s bodies directly (unless, of course, they’re on display modeling lingerie or trying to restrict our rights to safe and accessible abortions) it’s not often you see advertising campaigns that empathize with the literal inner workings of a woman’s uterus — and pysche!
Pleasure, pain, love and hate are all covered in this stunning work by Golden Globe-winning and Emmy-nominated director, writer and producer Nisha Ganatra. The 3-minute video, which pans back and forth between live actors and animation, tells the tale of multiple women’s bodies, depicting how, “when they’re at their best, [they] are incredible machines of pleasure … [that] help propagate the human race,” according to Ganatra. “But they don’t always work,” she explains. “It’s an emotional rollercoaster that lasts a lifetime.”
Plus, Essity’s commitment to sustainability and problem solving within the hygiene and health industry is unparalleled. Essity is actively trying to reduce its carbon footprint by decreasing their waste production and using mostly recyclable and compostable materials. They’re also big on enhancing the well being of their customers by spreading knowledge and awareness of hygiene health by “educating young girls and promoting an open dialogue about menstruation” around the world.
Why: To be fair, it doesn’t take much to market Spotify to people. No one’s like “Oh yeah, I hate Spotify! Their algorithms stink. Access to an overwhelming catalogue of over 700 million tracks of music is hella lame.”
Spotify could simply be like, “Hey, ya like music? Tight, we’ve got some,” and people would punch in their CC numbers from memory. But as it turns out, their marketing is actually neat, too!
Spotify is all about personalized, curated experiences. They know that you love and prioritize you, above all else (whether we admit it, or not). So they hone in on that. And they utilize their collective data on their listeners to make their ads feel pointed, funny and relatable. And, perhaps most importantly, Spotify knows its listeners really well. After all, your taste in music speaks volumes about your personality, mood, preferences and desires. Spotify embraces pop culture and recent trends by using relevant slogans, themes and hashtags in its ad campaigns over the years.
For example, in 2016 they embraced the slogan “It’s Been Weird,” pinning us (the Spotify community) against the same common enemy, the year (to be fair, we had no idea what was coming):
Then they got behind the popular hashtag #goals in 2017:
Next there was #2018unwrapped, where they recapped seemingly meaningful ongoings or blips in our collective online attention span, like this one you’ve probably already forgot about:
More recently, Spotify marketing has summoned the all powerful meme as a means of effectively communicating with Gen Z-ers in its “Music for every mood” campaign:
Spotify’s 2020 campaign also focused around you, with their #unwrapped reprise campaign, featuring your annual listening habits, stats and most played songs formatted in a special end-of-the-year playlist.
And this year, their latest marketing push is actually entitled “Only You” (like the Yaz song), which celebrates curious listening habits and pushes for more engagement with the app and other users.
TL;DR: Spotify is cool and popular. It’s not a secret. And its marketing reflects that.
Why: Remember American Eagle? That store in the mall that was way more affordable than Abercrombie & Fitch? Not Aeropostale, the other one.
Right so, Aerie is its hip, kid sister sub brand that slings cute, affordable bralettes, bathing suits and active, “dorm” and lounge apparel to women ranging from college coeds to Millennial moms and everyone in between. Both their reasonable price points and their famed crossover cut bottoms bring all the babes to the yard.
But they’re about way more than that. Aerie promotes body positivity, as demonstrated by their variety of models, flattering garment designs and mix + match sizing options. And they donate a percentage of each sale to the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), a non-profit that supports individuals and families affected by eating disorders. NEDA also serves as a catalyst for the prevention and access to quality care for those afflicted with eating disorders. Aerie has also supported NEDA throughout the BLM movement in making a concerted effort to provide mental health, self-care, and mindfulness resources for its BIPOC community members.
Then there’s their #AerieREAL Insta campaign, where customers are encouraged to upload and hashtag untouched, unfiltered photos of themselves wearing Aerie garments. Aerie then promises to donate $1 per photo to NEDA as a way of engaging (and showcasing!) its diverse customer base, while simultaneously doing good.
Why: Okay, here’s a really cool one. Yes, they received some backlash on this being a “marketing ploy,” which it was — but that was the point. This Argentinian condom company Tulipan paired up with ad agency BBDO Argentina to create a condom package can only be opened with four hands (that’s two pairs, for you math haters) to promote consensual sex. These limited edition condom boxes were distributed around bars and clubs in Buenos Aires.
This campaign was a direct response to some alarming statistics: only 14.5% of Argentinian men regularly used a condom, 65% said they occasionally use them and 20.5% said they'd never used a condom before. Tulipan’s "Consent Pack" exists to encourage “not only consent, but condom use overall.”
Of course this packaging won’t protect you from sexual assault and no, it’s not “practical,” but the idea behind #PlacerConsentido — or consensual pleasure — is important and we think this simple design trick was both clever and effective.
Why: If you haven’t heard of them (you probably don’t listen to many podcasts), MeUndies sells insanely soft undies, jammies, bras, and matching accessories for your doggos in a wide variety of fun prints and patterns. Their products are largely available online (they also recently opened a flagship brick and mortar store in LA) and they offer a subscription based membership, where cute panties show up in your mailbox monthly for a fee.
MeUndies preaches comfort, ethically sourced materials, body positivity and “fueling authentic self expression.” They want you to be unapologetically you — and look cute in their patterned panties while doing it.
Their marketing has demonstrated that unapologetic stance, as well. Millennial marketing expert Jeff Fromm explained that “while [they take] risks, MeUndies has shown an ability to generate controversy in a way that helps create more brand awareness.” MeUndies is self aware in the sense that they understand that buzzworthy brands are part of an ongoing cultural conversation — whether that conversation is polite or provocative.
For example, in 2014 MeUndies made an endorsement deal to former Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle after he’d been arrested for shoplifting underwear. Then they went so far as to team up with former NFL running back Marshawn Lynch after he was fined by the NFL for grabbing his crotch to celebrate a touchdown (he’d claimed to be adjusting his underwear). MeUndies offered to match Lynch’s NFL fines by donating $20k to charity! Scandalous!
Come on, that’s pretty funny stuff.
Aside from their brazen marketing tactics, MeUndies really centers its brand around authenticity and celebrating imperfections. They strive for “normal people selling stuff to normal people,” which is what people want these days. Their models are all shapes, sizes, colors and genders.
They’re me, they’re you, they’re your neighbor and your co-worker. They’re just real humans in their underwear.
The company launched a charitable donation initiative called MeUndies Gives to demonstrate their “personal commitment to fight conformity and promote acceptance and change.” With this program, MeUndies partners with organizations (such as the Los Angeles LGBTQ Center, The Body Positive and Fashion Scholarship Fund) who “help lift systemic barriers through open conversations and creativity.”
Brand: Southwest Airlines
Why: Name another airline that offers free checked bags. We’ll wait.
Aside from their unique positioning in the luggage realm, Southwest has always had good marketing. Plus, when a rare disaster tends to arise, they nip it in the bud crush it immediately with outstanding PR and generous compensations to everyone involved, whether they were merely inconvenienced or, um, utterly traumatized.
While most airlines are generally soulless, defensive and impossible to reason with, Southwest takes a flexible, humanized approach. Changes and cancellations happen. All. The. Time. They don’t nickel and dime you or charge you relentless, unsympathetic (in)convenience fees. Instead they utilize an easy-to-navigate app and site, consistently offer low fares (Wanna Get Away? rates) and boast no “hidden fees” (aka Transfarency). Southwest also prides themself on their outstanding customer service.
They’re the airlines with a sense of humor, which goes a long way. Lots of people are anxious fliers. Some aren’t. But all people have a sense of humor, and if the flight attendants are cracking jokes, that puts everyone at ease — whether they need it or not.
But beyond all that, Southwest focuses on its appreciation for its customers. “They’re the reason we fly,” says Ryan Green, their Chief Marketing Officer. In 2017, Southwest ran a campaign called “Behind Every Seat Is A Story,” where they showcased customers in vignette snippets with little seat numbers hovering over their heads. It’s easy to get disgruntled and irritable while flying, and this campaign served to subtly remind people that, hey, we’re all human and we’re all flying for a reason that’s probably worthwhile and relatable. These commercials also advocated for the customers’ satisfaction with their in-flight experience.
And Southwest values its employees. They’re clever, using interview tactics that create vulnerability and encourage empathy and community building straight from the get-go. And it pays off: you can always tell that Southwest employees are having fun. Or at least they do a good job of faking it. And for that, we appreciate them right back.
Brand: Ben & Jerry’s
Why: Ben & Jerry’s is iconic. Their ice cream flavors are unrivaled in creativity, witty names and quality ingredients. But they’re also activists. (And have been since 1978!) It’s no secret that they aren’t afraid to take a stand against white supremacy, criminal justice reform, voting rights, racial justice, LGBTQ rights, campaign finance reform, climate change and refugee rights.
They believe that “business has a responsibility and a unique opportunity to be a powerful lever of change in the world.” Ben & Jerry’s uses “both traditional and contemporary business tools to drive systemic progressive social change by advancing the strategies of the larger movements that deal with those issues.”
Ben and Jerry are just good guys.
They’ve historically been super committed to the Fair Trade sourcing of ingredients, caring for farmers and the environment and building community. They’ve proudly joined in the 2011 Occupy movement, protested GMOs, accommodated their non-dairy customers’ requests and paid homage to countless favored bands and entertainers over the years.
Here’s a little laundry list of all the do-gooding Ben & Jerry have committed to over the last thirty years:
In 1985, the Ben & Jerry's Foundation was established and the company began to donate 7.5% of their annual pre-tax profits to fund community-oriented projects.
In 1989, Ben & Jerry's publicly opposed Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH) “based on concern about its adverse economic impact on family farming and public confidence in the wholesomeness of dairy products.”
In 1990, 8 million pints displayed a "Support Farm Aid" message to support the non-profit organization whose mission is to keep family farmers on their land.
In 1992, they joined in a cooperative campaign with the Children's Defense Fund to bring children's basic needs to the top of the national agenda.
In 2002, Ben & Jerry's partnered with Dave Matthews Band and SaveOurEnvironment.org in a campaign to help fight global warming.
In 2004, they partnered with Rock the Vote, whose street teams “leverage the long lines of customers on Free Cone Day to register over 11,000 voters,” which ends up being the biggest one-day grassroots registration in Rock the Vote's history!
In 2005, they protested proposed oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge by constructing a 900-pound Baked Alaska with our Fossil Fuel ice cream, stick it on the US Capital lawn and serve it up with the help of Greenpeace and the Alaska Wilderness League.
We’re not sure which ranks higher: Ben and Jerry’s integrity or their ice cream’s calorie count.