Underwear You Can Wear

Imagine a little girl dressing her dolls in tiny clothes. The dolls have fashion model-like proportions and a skin tone different from hers. The girl loves ballet and goes to the theater to watch Swan Lake. She sees 24 swans dressed in white tutus, all about the same size, shape and color, like her dolls, standing in line and moving as one. She attends ballet class, which she loves and excels in, but is told she doesn’t fit the ballet ideal and will never have a place onstage among the swans.

Historically, the ballet ideal body is white and unusually thin, flexible, and long-legged, with high insteps. The girl is gorgeous and a talented dancer. She is black and has a muscular, fit body, with shapely breasts that aren’t well-supported by a leotard. Does she walk away from her dream of becoming a ballerina because her beauty is different from the other swans’?

No. She stands her ground. She wills what she wants. This girl can dance, and she does. She becomes a woman who dances, unapologetically, just as she is. Audiences adore her. They see a strong, beautiful woman who can move powerfully or softly or any way she chooses to – and in her, they see a person who inspires them and their loved ones to inhabit their own truth and fulfill their potential.

The campaign

This is the story of Under Armour’s “I Will What I Want” campaign featuring ballerina Misty Copeland (dolls and swans imagined above). The campaign of documentary video and print ads was successful because it was beautifully produced – a striking series of shots of Ms. Copeland dancing, with voiceover of a little girl – and it told a story of an underdog rising to prominence, which compels those watching the ad to root for the heroine. The campaign upended a typical approach to selling underwear by starring a notable woman whose body has a purpose other than modeling underwear. She has a profession and an identity, and viewers can admire and relate to her.  

A new approach

Ever notice that the example shoe at a department store tends to be the smallest available size? Or that clothing is hung on a rack smallest in front to largest in back? Only the smallest sizes are worthy to be showcased, standard merchandising practices tell us. Same goes for advertising. Underwear models – and models in general – tend to be thinner than the average person. Merriam-Webster's definitions of “model" include both “a usually miniature representation of something” and “an example for imitation or emulation.” That’s a tough order.

With “I Will What I Want” and similar stories of embodiment of power featuring notable women, Under Armour gave us a different kind of ad by showing a novel way to wear their product. The models were not passive clothing racks, but active, successful women, in a variety of shapes, sizes, colors, and strengths, being supported by what they were wearing instead of defined by it.

This post is an part of an assignment for Udacity's Digital Marketing Nanodegree program. Thanks for reading! #IminDMND