IDEA: Many female-focused brands plead with busy women to take it easy. Not Athleta. The maker of fitness and lifestyle apparel targets women who always want more, out of sports and life. This mirrors the products, which claim to offer more themselves. Designed by women for women, the clothing is both high-performance and stylish, whereas most athletic wear is either/or. For its first major brand campaign, the company (which was bought by Gap Inc. in 2009) wanted to celebrate women who are always reaching—saluting its existing customers while enticing new ones with a similar mind-set. "A lot of brands speak to women about attaining physical beauty or physical prowess. We felt like there was this beautiful space in between, where we could speak to her about being both feminine and powerful," said Sheila Shekar, Athleta's director of advertising. To find its voice, Athleta—which has largely been a catalog company and hasn't done much brand advertising—struck a somewhat unusual partnership with ad agency Peterson Milla Hooks. PMH would create the positioning and advise on the look and feel of the work while Athleta's in-house team would create the ads. The centerpiece, for now, is a print campaign showing a strong, beautiful woman on an ocean-side jog—next to a manifesto of 22 short sentences that capture the brand's ethos. "The whole world is telling women to slow down and take time for themselves. This is the opposite of that," said Courtney Vincent, associate creative director at PMH. "This is like, you know what? No. Keep pushing. There's beauty in overdoing it."
COPYWRITING: PMH began to understand the brand by meeting Athleta's designers, who embody the target. "To them, craziness is happiness," said Vincent. "On top of family and friends and social life, they're totally gaga about working out—and going outside and doing it." A manifesto felt like the right way to pay tribute to them. (In addition to the copy shown here, other campaign materials include lines like "Maybe it's the added x. That makes us so utterly capable.") PMH came up with "Power to the She"—literally combining performance ("power") and femininity ("she")—almost as a placeholder. "But we kept liking it more and more," said Vincent. "It wasn't supposed to be women's lib-y or anything like that. We had to find a way of talking about it that didn't feel too rah-rah, too flip, but also didn't feel too butch, for lack of a better word. And that was it."
ART DIRECTION: While PMH wrote much of the copy, it only advised on the visuals. Color was a big thing. "They're such a colorful brand, which is unique for the category," said Vincent. "Nike is very black and white and dark and strong and sweaty and 'gym.' Athleta, even in their catalogs, they're always outside. So the colors we were hoping for were very saturated and strong but still beautiful." The models are the heroes in the ads, more so than in the catalogs. The shallow depth of field helps to achieve this, as does the feeling of a more captured, spontaneous moment. Simply put, the photos had to convey beauty and power in equal measure. Again, Nike was a reference point, but Vincent suggested Nike's target is sometimes blurry. "It's almost like … is this for women or men? There's definitely a sex appeal there," she said. "We really wanted Athleta to seem like a coalition of women for women."
MEDIA: The ads are running in fitness titles and more general-interest magazines like Real Simple, InStyle and Sports Illustrated. A YouTube video puts the campaign in motion. The brand also sponsors Iron Girl, the national all-female race series, and is partnering with the nonprofit Girls on the Run. Digital efforts include an upcoming partnership with Pandora, where women can create "Power to the She" workout stations.
Agency: Peterson Milla Hooks, Minneapolis; and in-house
Photographers: Lori Adamski Peek and Chris Jameson
Other Athleta Credits:
Vice President of Marketing: Tess Roering
Director of Advertising and Sponsorships: Sheila Shekar Pollak
Creative Direction: Jed Smith and Beth Neesen
Art Direction: Linda Vegher
Copy: Ashley McCullough and Jacqueline Judge
Design: Gregg Nottingham, Ayza Guillermo, Raul Chacon, Heidi Massey, Paula Meiselman and Rachel Pedersen
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