Brands That Flipped the Script in 2021
How Old Navy, Ford, Taylor Swift and more are overthrowing old thinking
As we say goodbye to 2021 and approach 2022, the dress code is whatever still fits. We spent yet another year in a constant state of uncertainty, and regardless of what shape we’re in, survival equals success. To that end, after two years in sweatpants and athleisure, I know I’m not the only one who needs new clothes.
Enter a dancing Aidy Bryant and the new catchy AF Old Navy commercial advertising its freshly launched BodEquality campaign. With this initiative, Old Navy is making a commitment to “start a fashion revolution” by carrying all its styles, in all sizes, at the same price, in all of their stores and online. It also redesigned its website to allow users to choose which size models they want to see as they shop. And while I’m singing Old Navy’s praises, I would be remiss to leave out its new gender-neutral offerings, which speak to another underserved audience.
Taking my personal passion for body inclusivity out of the conversation, it’s objectively inspiring to see a large-scale, worldwide brand take a big swing to respond to a market need. At ThoughtMatter, we are constantly keeping our eye out for brands that are reinventing and redefining themselves not only to keep up with society, but to keep it moving forward. We are a studio driven by subversion, set on overthrowing old thinking to create something new.
I polled the studio to see which brands my colleagues felt flipped the script in 2021. So get comfy, pull on your favorite pair of Old Navy sweats, and read what some of our expert designers, strategists and marketers had to say.
PHILLIP LAURIA, Strategy Director
Electrification has long been part of legacy auto makers’ business, but never really touched the core brands or hero product lines in any meaningful way. However, the market has spoken. As of this year we’ve started to see all-electric vehicles become the central theme of brands like Ford and GM. The Ford F-150 is Ford’s hero product and the best-selling vehicle in the U.S. This year Ford released an all-electric F series, which is a significant — and necessary — shift in focus going forward.
D’ANGELO HEYWARD, Junior Designer
An example of a brand that flipped the script in 2021 is Spotify, with its new “work from anywhere” policy that allows employees to decide where they would like to work. It has recognized people need proper work/life balance and that flexibility produces interesting results. Spotify continues to develop its culture and embrace change by listening to employees, which makes all the difference.
KATIE JOHNSMEYER, Senior Account Manager
Aerie has been recognized in recent years for not airbrushing its models and pictures. But now it also sells stylish adaptive accessories such as belts for insulin pumps, catheter clips and ostomy bag covers, which helps normalize the experience for many young people. By selling these cute accessories in its stores alongside its other offerings, it makes buying those items easier for the people who need them.
JESSIE McGUIRE, Managing Director
Your feelings about Taylor Swift may be complicated, but she certainly has flipped the script in the music industry and beyond. This year Taylor took over ownership of her music and message with the release of “Red (Taylor’s Version).” The re-imagining of her 2012 hit album was met with a flurry of online buzz, media attention and impressive streaming numbers that proved the world is supporting Taylor in her pursuit to reclaim her catalogue. May we all feel empowered going into 2022 to refresh, renew and own our stories.
WEDNESDAY KRUS, Design Director
Originally a supper club founded by Yin Chang and Moonlynn Tsai, Heart of Dinner flipped the script on its business model in light of anti-Asian sentiment and food insecurity in the pandemic. Heart of Dinner has served more than 70,000 meals to homebound East Asian elders. In doing so, it’s combatted hateful rhetoric and xenophobia towards members of its community, instead spreading care, encouragement and support in the form of delicious food.
DYLAN STIGA, Senior Strategist
In the summer of 2020, Patagonia joined several other brands in boycotting advertising spends on Facebook due to the social media platform spreading “hate speech and misinformation about climate change and our democracy.” Sixteen months and a few hundred “Facebook Papers” disclosed later, Patagonia continues to call on other brands to join its boycott and urge Facebook to “prioritize people and planet over profit,” just as it is doing by sacrificing millions of online views.
MARTHA KIRBY, Client Services Director
One Fresh Pillow doesn’t shy away from politics, having donated pillows to the National Guardsman at the Capitol during the insurrection. But honestly, above all of that, they are THE most transparent brand I’ve interacted with. I ordered 2 pillows on February 3, 2021, and they didn’t arrive until October 30, 2021. Which is… wild! But between the Suez Canal issue, supply chains, delays at ports, etc., One Fresh Pillow kept their customers updated in GREAT detail via email newsletters and Twitter threads. It made me feel like I was part of a community of people joined by the desire to support a small business. Finally, it helped me remember that everything doesn’t need to shipped overnight for free to be worth it.
ASHER McQUEEN, Financial Controller
United Airlines now offers an option for passengers to select (Mx) as a gender option. This is important because TSA can be very stressful for transgender and gender nonconforming flyers. Gender should be viewed as a complete spectrum, not just black and white.
EB MAY, Account Manager
With Harry Styles’ new line Pleasings and Lil Nas X teaming up with Fenty, it’s great to see the continued rise of the inclusive beauty movement. It validates those who have been laying the groundwork in previous generations, encourages conversations and experimentation about identity and gender, and helps flip the script about who makeup and cosmetics products are made for.
BEN GREENGRASS, Creative Director
I never thought I would spend $250 on a fully-working LEGO typewriter. Its efforts to target stressed-out adults in late 2020 and 2021 worked on me, and a wander into one of their New York City stores proved I wasn’t the only one. I encountered LEGO versions of flowers, football stadiums, Adidas Superstars, photo art, luxury cars and a bunch of adults buying more for themselves than for their children.
This post was written by Brianna Jacobson with thinking contributed by the ThoughtMatter staff. ThoughtMatter is a creative branding, design and strategy studio in New York City’s Flatiron District. Find us on Twitter.