👋, I’m Kimberly. I’ve been creating obsession-worthy brands for the past fifteen years. And now, I’m giving away my secrets every week in this newsletter.
Once your brand is launched and you get into the cadence of ongoing content creation—it can be easy to get stuck in a marketing rut, talking about the same things over and over with slightly different language… as you wait for the next product to launch, so you have a new story to share.
The best way to keep things fresh is to keep your eyes open all the time, because anything can inspire your next great marketing campaign. That’s why I’m always saving stories of brands doing highly interesting things.
This week, I created a roundup of three brands that did highly interesting things in September 2021.
And I’m giving you a fun marketing exercise inspired by each one—so you can get out of your marketing rut and slip into something new, shiny, and absolutely brilliant.
🥇 Interesting Thing #1
The Brand That Wasn’t Afraid to Get Dusty
Founded in 1978, Banana Republic burst onto the fashion scene with a unique concept—safari-inspired clothes for the everyday wardrobe.
I remember this OG Banana Republic from my high school mall hangouts, when both the clothes and the store interiors evoked desert adventure vibes.
But, looking at a store today, no trace of that aesthetic remained. Instead, it had been replaced with “affordable workwear-chic” much more in line with J.Crew and Ann Taylor than the Sahara.
Enter the Banana Republic rebrand that launched last month—a triumphant return to the brand’s roots based in a lust for excitement and discovery.
In an interview with L’Official, Banana Republic’s Chief Brand Officer Ana Andjelic discussed the reinvention in detail.
“Our approach is less archive-inspired than imagination-inspired. Archive just showed us what an imaginary world Banana Republic once was—the catalogues and the stores were legendary—and what it can be again.”
The launch campaign is set in an Imagined World of the dusty dessert.
“[It’s] a setting that is beyond time and place and beyond the rules of the known world,” Andjelic says. “A place that reflects human imagination and creativity and curiosity. It is obviously an adventure, but more of a creative kind. We want to convey that the best adventures are imaginary, and they make us human.”
The rebrand also strives to modernize the aesthetic—with a sense of androgyny and fluidity among the styles.
“Traditional menswear and womenswear categories are very old-fashioned,” Andjelic explains. “Fashion consumers make their own wardrobes and they mix vintage and contemporary and inspirations from all sorts of contexts. Traditional gender categories is just one such context. We all feel differently in different situations—sometimes feminine, sometimes masculine, often both—and in the different roles that we play. We want to dress our customers for all their roles and moods.”
🏋️ Branding Exercise #1
Dust Yourself Off
We all have good things in our past. And if you’ve been around a year or twenty years, it’s worth going back and revisiting what made you special in the first place.
So, pretend you’re on the Bachelor, and think of it like a hometown.
Pull out that high school yearbook… which, for your brand, might be:
Your first marketing campaigns
Your earliest website versions
Your original pitch decks and concept notes
Look at the images, read through the copy, and ask yourself…
“Are there any amazing aspects of our brand from then that we’ve lost?
And could these aspects be revived to resonate now?”
🥇 Interesting Thing #2
The Brand That Struck Up Unexpected Friendships
I love a collaboration that makes me go “hmm” when I hear about it and “ooo!!!” when I see it. And that’s just what happened here.
It may not have seemed like these three brands would be birds of a feather—but Pepsi’s recent partnership with legendary Harlem designer Dapper Dan to create a line of NFL-branded clothes took a flight path all its own.
In keeping with the current cultural moment, the “Football Watching Capsule Collection” was designed for pandemic-friendly at-home viewing.
And Dapper Dan—the “father of logo mania” who originally made his name repurposing the iconography of established luxury brands like Luis Vuitton and evolving the symbols—obviously included a LOT of logos, alongside athlete-style piping on ultra-comfy, fleece-lined athleisure looks.
You’re probably wondering how this collaboration came about…
In 2021, both New York Fashion Week and the opening of the NFL season were poised to happen at the same time. And a couple of savvy marketers realized that while the audiences watching the runways are very different from the audiences watching the fields—their spirits are similar.
“When we think of football fans, they are unapologetic about who they are and how they celebrate the pride for their team in their team colors, in their team spirit,” Patrick Connors, SVP of global brand partnerships of IMG FashionConnors told Adweek. “Fashion Week takes that same position. Fans embrace their favorite designers and are unapologetically bold in their fashion choices.”
The collaboration was also a perfect example of three brands connecting with what’s happening in popular culture—an approach that has always been championed by Todd Kaplan, Pepsi’s VP of Marketing.
Kaplan believes in a “culture in” versus “brand out” way of thinking. He wants his teams to observe what’s going on in the news, on social and more, then bring the brand’s point of view to the discussion.
“We’re a brand that’s really trying to connect with culture, and really do it in an authentic way, in a modern way—in a way that brands should be talked about and marketed and embraced today,” Kaplan said.
🏋️ Branding Exercise #2
Pop Your Culture
Time to try your hand at the “culture in” approach that Pepsi’s VP champions.
Here’s how to start:
Make a big spreadsheet of all of the types of news and culture categories you can think of (Politics, Business, Health, Entertainment, Sports, Style, etc)
Take a day—and go on a cultural internet expedition. Search the usual suspects of news sites (CNN, Wall Street Journal, NYT), as well as more specialty sites (Vox, Slate, Vice Buzzfeed) and the leading magazines in specific verticals (Food & Wine, Allure, GQ, Architectural Digest).
Keep your mind wide open, and add any and all topics that could ever possibly make sense for your brand to have a point of view on to your spreadsheet.
When you’re done, go back in with the freshest eyes possible and ask:
“Could it work for my brand join this conversation?
And if we did, who would we partner with?”
I bet you’ll come up with some ideas (and potential brand friends!) that never would have occurred to you before.
🥇 Interesting Thing #3
The Brand That Made Limits Work In Its Favor
Cannabis may now be legal in many states—but the advertising regulations would have you think otherwise.
Google prohibits the advertising of “marijuana” as well as “pipes, bongs, cannabis coffee shops.” And Facebook says ads can’t “promote the sale or use of illicit or recreational drugs, or other unsafe substances, products or supplements.” In addition, many other publishers (and even many ad agencies) won’t work with cannabis brands because of any potential stigma.
These kinds of policies make it super difficult for small businesses in the space to gain traction.
But some emerging brands, like Gorilla Rx—a Black female-owned dispensary that recently opened in Los Angles—have found themselves getting more creative by working within these restrictions.
In the Crenshaw neighborhood, Gorilla Rx has gotten attention with a series of wild postings and a massive mural as part of a campaign called “Black Women Get Us Higher.”
But the need to go out-of-home instead of digital wasn’t the only restriction this cannabis campaign had to be created within.
If Gorilla Rx wanted to include any imagery or mentions of cannabis, they would have to make sure the OOH wasn’t anywhere within 1,000 of a daycare center, school, or playground. The dispensary would also have to prove that at least 71.6% of people who would see the mural are over the age of 21.
These extra restrictions meant that Gorilla Rx had to get even MORE creative—opting for more abstract visuals and copy.
Kika Howze, who leading marketing strategy for the dispensary, told Marketing Brew, “The words had to stand out; the imagery had to speak for itself without the inclusion of a joint. It compels people to dream the rest.”
I would liken it to the approach taken by the best horror movies.
For example, the shower scene in Psycho is widely regarded as the most terrifying of all time…. but it doesn’t actually show a knife puncturing flesh.
The violence is only implied. And that adds to its power.
Kind of like these cannabis ads.
🏋️ Branding Exercise #3
Work Within Your Limits
You don’t often hear people complaining about creative freedom, because it’s what everyone wants—in theory.
But sometimes creative freedom can be overwhelming, and working within some constrictions forces you to get more creative.
When you’re gearing up for your next marketing campaign, try putting some imaginary guardrails on it:
What would you create if… you couldn’t say what your product is?
What would you create if… your digital ad had to be a sculpture?
What you create if… you could not use photography?
Then, see what you come up with. I bet it’ll be pretty different than your normal campaign.
And when you’re done, you can bring the idea to life as-is (I’d love to see more sculptures as marketing!?!).
Or, you can apply some of the imaginary “guardrailed” ideas to your real “unguardrailed” marketing campaign.
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I help early stage founders create the kind of brands that get customers so obsessed, they’ll do your advertising for you.
Based on my experience founding my own consumer brand, I developed The Branding Sprint—a uniquely collaborative, streamlined, and agile approach to brand creation.