9 Ad Campaigns That Aimed to Break Barriers -- While Making a Buck (PHOTOS)

9 Ad Campaigns That Aimed to Break Barriers -- While Making a Buck (PHOTOS)

Lane Bryant

More and more brands are turning to "nontraditional" ad campaigns that make some kind of cultural or political statement -- from advocating body positivity to celebrating diverse families. Do you think they're making a difference ... or just making money?

They didn't invent it, but Kenneth Cole has been employing the activism-as-advertising strategy since as far back as 1986. The company called out Imelda Marcos and her shoe habit, took a stand against nuclear arms, and advocated for the American Foundation for AIDS Research -- all in one year. Other companies have followed suit since then, but it seems like in the last year or so, we've really reached critical mass with this kind of approach.

The question is -- are these campaigns doing any good? Are they genuine attempts by the people behind a brand to further a cause, to make a positive change in the world, to use their voices and reach for good? Or, are they simply cynical moves by big, wealthy companies to further their credibility as "cool" brands -- and thereby get bigger and even wealthier?

I'd say the answer to that question is, YES.

It's both. No smart executive puts big dollars behind an advertising campaign purely out of the goodness of his or her heart. But that doesn't mean that the people behind a brand don't believe in their message -- even as they're theoretically benefiting by it. And, more importantly, no matter who's making money off an ad campaign, the fact still remains that those words and images do have an impact on the world.

I don't care how much money Campbell's Soup made as a result of putting out this ad. The world gets to see these two dads sharing a sweet moment with their little boy, and that's only a good thing. See for yourself:

Of course, not all ad campaigns like this are as successful -- some can be blatantly disingenuous, and read purely as a mercenary act of commerce.

Click through the slideshow to see recent examples of ad campaigns that try to share a greater message, break a barrier, or tell a story that's not being told. Though some of them fall short, I'd argue that overall, the more messages being put out into our culture that contradict the same old poisonous messages we always see -- skinny is beautiful; white is beautiful; homogeny is beautiful; only youth is beautiful -- the better.


Image via Lane Bryant / Plus Is Equal

  • Jaden Smith for Lous Vuitton


    Image via Louis Vuitton

    In January of this year, Louis Vuitton's new ad campaign launched, featuring none other than Jaden Smith ... wearing a skirt. While I agree that this isn't quite the brave act of earth-shattering activism Louis Vuitton presented it as, I am all for more images in the media that defy gender stereotypes. For young kids to see a very cool celeb boy wearing a skirt -- well, that's just plain cool.

  • Equinox's Breastfeeding Glamour Girl


    Image via Equinox

    Part of a series of ads designed to get people to "commit" to the gym Equinox in January, this ad featuring a glam model breastfeeding twins certainly made waves around the Internet. Is it art? Is it exploitation? Is it insulting? Perhaps more to the point -- does it make you want to go to the gym? (No.) While women should be able to feel comfortable breastfeeding wherever they damn please (yes, the company gets kudos for that), I don't think it really accomplishes much of anything -- except to get me to wonder whose babies those are, and what that blue stuff is!

    More from The Stir: Equinox Ad Featuring Nursing Mom Wants You to Think Breastfeeding Is Sexy (PHOTO)

  • Lauren Wasser for Nordstrom


    Image via Nordstrom

    In December 2015, Nordstrom ran a series of ads featuring 28-year-old amputee Lauren Wasser, who lost her leg to toxic shock syndrome. That these ads are for activewear makes them all the more compelling and powerful. This wasn't the first time the company celebrated body diversity in their ads -- back in 2014, Nordstrom ran ads featuring disabled and amputee models. Bravo. Now, I'd love to see these same people featured right along with some able-bodied models!

  • Madeline Stuart for Manifesta


    Image via mymanifesta.com

    This campaign differs a bit from the others, in that Madeline Stuart is a young aspiring model who has Down syndrome. She's working to break into an industry that traditionally would have no place for her -- and she's a total inspiration. Body-positive athletic brand Manifesta featured Madeline in their recent ad campaign -- a smart move from a smart company.

  • Joan Didion for Celine


    Image via Celine

    In January of 2015, French fashion house Celine shared the new face of their brand with the world: the iconic, important writer and cultural critic, 80-year-old Joan Didion. In doing so, it aligned its brand with the message that chic means smart, accomplished, and brilliant.

  • Helen Mirren for L'Oreal


    Image via L'Oreal

    Not only is Helen Mirren, at 63, a good 35 years older than the typical skin-care model, she actually has -- gasp! -- wrinkles! And they're allowed to show in this L'Oreal ad! Will wonders never cease?

  • Lane Bryant 'Plus Is Equal'


    Image via Lane Bryant / Plus Is Equal

    Lane Bryant is a plus-size company, so it's not revolutionary that it's using plus-size models. But it turned its campaign up a notch by branding it as a movement: Plus Is Equal. The company's not just trying to sell plus size clothes to plus size women, it's telling the world that plus is beautiful, and it's advocating for body positivity and acceptance. And these women sure do look gorgeous.

  • Nyquil: "Dads Don't Take Sick Days"


    Image via vicks.com

    As a married mom, I can't help but snicker a bit at this ad (in my experience, dads most definitely DO take sick days!); however, I truly appreciate the larger movement toward featuring fathers in roles that have always traditionally been "mom" roles. The more images our society has of fathers caring for and interacting with their children, the better for all of us.

  • Campbell's Soup's Two Dads


    Image via Campbell's Soup/YouTube

    And finally, this super sweet ad featuring three handsome fellows. It makes me teary every time I see it, to think that beautiful families like this one have to put up with so much ignorance and hatred. By featuring these two dads and their little boy the same way they'd feature any family, Campbell's is making the world a better, and safer, place. I truly believe that. This is advertising as advocacy at its finest.


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