Showcasing different lifestyles through advertising

Barneys

An example image from Barneys' ad campaign featuring 17 transgender models.

There’s only so much excitement you can squeeze out of an ad for a mop, says Jen Drexler, Senior Vice President of Insight Strategy Group, a market research firm.

“You can only show how many after-pictures of a clean floor and a dirty mop,” she says.

But Swiffer, the company that promises it’s “built smarter”, is taking a swipe at reinvigorating its advertising with a new campaign featuring real married couples, one of which is biracial with a husband who lost part of his arm to cancer. 

When you only have one hand,” he says in an online spot, “you’re not doing anything as fast as you used to. Which is funny cause I still do it better than her.”

Swiffer says the Rukavinas, the couple in the ad, represent the evolution of the American family. 

The ads, says, Drexler, show something a different side than a typical commercial does.

“A real like, advertising catching up with demographics, of these interesting families,” she says.  “There’s something so great about the emotional connection that goes way beyond what the product benefit is of a mop.”

Ads, says Drexler, used to be testimonials, but that’s old. Now they have to move beyond the functional – like Swiffer’s do - to emotionally connect with consumers.

“This is so different,” she says. “It’s not testimonials, it is real life situations, that have humor and a level of gravity to it that reflect what’s happening for all of us.”

Cheerios also has an ad with a bi-racial family. And fashion brands are aiming for more reality too. New ads for “Diesel” feature a model with Muscular Dystrophy in a wheelchair. And Barney’s NY uses transgender models. The company even shot a half hour film telling its model’s stories. In the beginning of the trailer for the film we meet a models, Arin Andrews who explains how he came to be he is today.

“I am a guy,” says Andrews. “I just happen to be born a girl.”

The campaign was shot by renowned fashion photographer Bruce Weber. And if you didn’t know the models are transgender you’d think it was just another high fashion photo shoot, but because of all buzz around the campaign, you know it’s not.

Candace Corlett, president of WSL Strategic Retail, says that’s part of the strength of the ads.

“What the Barneys ads are doing is making you pause and look. And that is a real challenge for any brand,” she says.

But against the backdrop of a typical fashion magazine where, as Corlett describes the models they might as well be clones, “just about all the of the models are Caucasian and most of them blond,” she says,  Barney’s models will stand out.

The store says it wants to help break stereotypes. But when you use a model in a wheelchair, or with only one arm,  who really benefits?

Ryley Pogensky, an event promoter, blogger and one of Barney’s new models says, the situation is win-win.

“I think before people are quick to judge what this might mean for Barneys sales, he says, what they should really recognize is that 17 people stepped forward and said, you’re going to accept us for the people we are. Your consumers are going to accept us for the people we are.

Swiffer says we should expect to see more ads with real families. By using everyday people Drexler says brands hope to create a new kind of aspiration -- to live a happy life on our own terms.

About the author

Sally Herships is a regular contributor to Marketplace.

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