Bloom Thinks: Brands Going There

January 3, 2024

Brands are reaching further than ever

In recent years many previously closed taboos have been opening up. Across race, culture, sexuality, gender and mental health we have experienced an explosion in acceptance.  

In the world of brands this shift has been shaped by startup businesses and charity organisations. But now the door is open it’s time for bigger brands, from more mainstream categories to seize the moment. By this we don’t mean force fitting an ethical purpose onto every brand out there. It’s more a matter of meeting consumer expectations in categories where taboo busting is relevant and useful.

Younger gens accept openness

According to Forbes (2022), Gen-Z is the most racially and ethnically diverse generation ever. A Gallup survey (2022) found the number of people identifying as LGBTQ more than doubled over a 10-year period in the U.S, driven largely by young people. As IPSOS (2021) reports, Gen-Z is notably more liberal than older cohorts and less concerned about ‘traditional values.’ And while much has been written about the puritanism of Gen-Z — with one UK newspaper describing them as the “new Victorians” — British Vogue (2022) instead found most young people are sexually active and speak about it “as if they were giving feedback to Vodafone.”  

Taboo-breaking campaign from WOMANvsCANCER: ‘Cancer won’t be the last thing the f*cks me’

New territory for brands  

We’re seeing taboo busting campaigns and stigma-shattering startups offering much needed products and services to people who have traditionally been ignored by established brands.

In 2023 cancer charity GIRLvsCancer released a daring campaign in partnership with BBH titled, ‘Cancer won’t be the last thing that f*cks me.’ Featuring real cancer survivors, the campaign shed light on a critical, but often ignored, reality of many women’s experience — dysfunction in post-cancer sex lives. Featuring nude women, an on-screen orgasm and a celebration of kinks, the campaign shatters stigmas. It dares audiences to confront difficult experiences many women go through and to engage in subjects that may make some people uncomfortable.

Taboo-breaking campaign from WOMANvsCANCER: ‘Cancer won’t be the last thing the f*cks me’

This year also saw the release of Norwich City FC’s campaign ‘Check in on those around you’, a powerful spotlight on suicide prevention. The spot comes at a critical moment in the UK, which experiences over 5,000 deaths by suicide every year. Of those deaths, 75% are men. The campaign is a reminder that suicidal thoughts can affect anyone, but that there’s a talking cure.

Norwich City FC, “Check in on those around you.”

We’re seeing many new-to-world brands positioning themselves against specific social stigmas. Sexual wellness brands like Smile Makers, Lelo and So Divine are taking new and disruptive takes on women’s pleasure. Instead of relying on tired tropes of the naughty, forbidden and illicit, they’re instead focusing on pleasure, joy and health. Period health brand August provides sustainable, eco-friendly products that aren’t specifically targeted toward women but ‘people who menstruate.’

Smile /makers

A startup-led shift

With ambition to drive positive change in the world — often led by younger entrepreneurs unafraid to buck the status quo — startup brands are addressing unmet needs in spaces like identity, acceptance and intimacy.  

Permission has been given for brands to engage us in our most personal, private and intimate worlds. More people now accept brands as active players in these previously locked cultural spaces — using their voices and platforms change minds and behaviours.  

Bigger brands have permission to go there

This is all leading us to an opportunity for more established brands. While smaller, more ambitious brands (with less to lose) have been first movers in taboo-busting, now is the time for larger, more established brands to take a cue. Bigger brands have an opportunity to take a bolder approach, to play a more active and engaged role in more heart-felt areas of consumer life. They have a chance to push their own boundaries, participate in new social openness and push culture forward.  

To succeed, bigger brands must be sincere, and they must walk the walk. They need to ensure their products and services actively help bust taboos. Not following through can be disastrous. Look no further than Bud Light using trans activist Dylan Mulvaney to sell more beer or the oldie but goodie Kendall Jenner Pepsi ad.

But with genuine intentions, and genuinely good products and services, the door is open for many more brands to join the cultural moment of openness. They need only the bravery to commit to things that society still feels uncomfortable about. They need only ‘go there.’

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