The Dream: The Power of Words to Make Change

brands stand social issue

By Schuyler Rooth, Content Manager & Beth Ann Mayer, Social Media Manager 

“I have a dream.” These words by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are some of the most famous spoken in American history. He took great care in crafting them, and he stood by every word. “I have a dream” is uplifting, aspirational and bold. Spoken during the Civil Rights movement, it challenged his followers and society to see everyone as equal, regardless of skin color. Dr. King’s words were meant to ignite passion and action in the audience. He got his point across in the most unequivocal terms possible with a sense of urgency. The narrative is strong, and we received it loud and clear. Dr. King’s words still resonate today. We will hear them on the celebration of his birthday, throughout Black History Month and in motivational and political speeches for ages.

Years later, brands have continued to use words to promote equality. These messages, of course, do not hold the same clout as Dr. King’s. His words transcend generations and continue to leave us speechless while inspiring us to work towards a more just world. But in their own ways, these brands have pushed to change the narrative of how we look and think about one another, and the message and visibility are important. It’s also something customers want to see. According to Kantar research, 61% of Millenials prefer brands that take a stand, and 50% of GenZ reports that knowing a brand is socially-conscious influences their buying decisions. 

We saw it recently when Nike released an ad featuring football player Colin Kaepernick, whose decision to kneel during the National Anthem in protest of police brutality against people of color drew controversy. Despite some backlash, Nike’s sales increased by 31%. Here are three other notable brands that have taken a stand on a social issue and used their creative to deliver more than a marketing message. 

Championing Every Body

brands take stand social issue aerie

The fashion industry has struggled with diversity over the years, but American Eagle Outfitters sub-brand Aerie launched a powerful and innovative campaign, #AerieReal, that shifted the narrative on the definition of beauty standards. The campaign featured models who had a medical issue or disability, a starch break from the women we typically see in these ads.  In this campaign’s case, the message comes directly from its models’ mouths (excellent use of user-generated content, which consumers typically trust more than a brand touting itself). “Be yourself” is the main idea here, and Aerie drove that home with dozens of testimonials from its customers about how the clothing made them feel. Inspiring narratives from #AerieReal’s customers-turned-models like “love the whole package,” “let’s be real,” “the real you is the best you,” and “you’re enough” evoke a sense of hope and encouragement. The amount of women who jumped onboard with these messages is proof that words matter, especially when they’re genuine and coming from a consumer who is rocking the product.  

We’re All Equal


In the late 1990s, when the U.S. women’s team’s World Cup championship run captivated the nation, Gatorade famously released a commercial starring soccer legend Mia Hamm and the equally legendary basketball player Michael Jordan. The video depicts Hamm and Jordan competing with each other in a variety of different sports. The campaign’s tagline was “Anything you can do; I can do better.” But this tagline isn’t referencing men’s and women’s abilities. Rather, it references the ability of an athlete to defeat another athlete. The narrative of the campaign is “life is an even playing field.” Gatorade was one of the first brands to champion this idea in advertising. 

Beauty For All

brands take stand social issue

The beauty industry is notoriously exclusive, particularly when it comes to skin tone. In 2017, singer Rihanna’s beauty line, Fenty, set out to change that by releasing an impressively wide range of foundation. The line includes a previously-unprecedented 40 shades of makeup. Fenty celebrates inclusivity and emphasizes the need for diverse beauty products with their products. The brand’s innovative approach and message –– all shades matter –– did double duty. It both pleased customers and motivated competitors. The brand’s narrative inspired several other brands to expand their shade ranges. Inclusivity is finally becoming a mainstay in the beauty industry and the advertising world. It’s a new world, and we’ve only hit the tip of the iceberg. 

Final Word

Change takes trailblazers. Words matter, regardless of the arena in which we use them. Dr. King started a movement that has lasted for generations. The campaigns we mentioned above aren’t of the same caliber — few speeches ever will be, either. But these brands are using their platforms to try to make our world more inclusive, make way for significant changes in their respective industries and highlight the importance of words. They, like the concepts, were bold. And they resonated.