This Household Brand’s Campaign Tells the Nuanced Stories of Autistic Teen Girls

Reckitt's Vanish continues a project to drive support for the clothing needs of autistic people

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While neurodiversity remains underrepresented in advertising, a British household brand is on a mission to increase public understanding about autistic experiences.

Vanish, a garment care brand owned by Reckitt, launched the second installment of a campaign to shift perceptions about autism. This time, it is calling on the general public and leaders in schools, businesses and sports to support the clothing needs of autistic people. 

The “More Than Just Clothes” project, created by agency Havas London, is based on the insight that 70% of autistic people think their lives would improve if people understood why clothes matter to them. Clothes can hold deeper significance among autistic people by helping with sensory regulation or providing routine, acceptance and comfort. 

Two documentary-style films bring this insight to life. The spots allow two real autistic teenage girls, Cozzie and Lani, to tell their stories in their own words, while animated sequences illustrate their ties to specific items of clothing. 

Lani is attached to a hoodie that lets her escape into a “little cocoon” when she feels overwhelmed. Meanwhile, Cozzie explains why her goalkeeper shirt is a “lifeline” to her while playing soccer. 

Along with the films, the project introduces the More Than Just Clothes Pledge, which asks people to remember principles based on the acronym JUST: “leave judgment out of clothing,” “understand the clothing needs of autistic people,” “see clothes as sensory tools” and “help everyone thrive by feeling empowered to wear clothes they’re comfortable in.” 

The campaign comes with a social toolkit, posters and a badge that can be shared on social channels encouraging others to take the pledge. Like last year, model and author Christine McGuinness, as well as other micro-influencers who are autistic, will produce online content to support the initiative. 

Vanish also partnered with charity Ambitious About Autism again, donating £60,000 ($75,430) to the organization this year.

Starting a journey

Vanish’s campaign began last year with “Me, My Autism & I,” which told the story of a real autistic girl named Ash and the visceral importance of her hoodie. It focused on the experiences of autistic girls, who are three times less likely to receive a diagnosis than boys, according to Ambitious About Autism. 

That commercial ran as a result of winning British broadcaster Channel 4’s annual Diversity in Advertising Award, which challenges advertisers to pitch diverse and inclusive campaigns and grants the winner $1.2 million in commercial airtime. 

“Me, My Autism & I” helped boost awareness of the autism gender gap by 11%, according to Havas. Tom King, a strategist at Havas London, said it also resonated with neurodiverse audiences. He recalled autistic people leaving voice messages at the agency’s reception and even taxi drivers mentioning the campaign. 

However, Vanish wanted to expand the effort to not only raise awareness of the issue, but also drive behavioral change. While the first year of the campaign established the significant role of clothing in autistic lives, year two is about showing “how we can all help,” King explained. 

The project focuses on areas of life where clothing restrictions, rules or expectations can affect autistic people: schools, sports, special events and the workplace. 

In addition to providing educational resources to the public, this year’s initiative also aims to “tell as many stories as possible,” said King. The media plan focuses not just on broadcast TV, but also on social media and “grassroots conversations,” he added. 

The girls in the films, Cozzie and Lani, also come from different backgrounds and have distinct concerns to emphasize the diverse breadth of experiences among autistic people. 

A gap in representation 

Vanish’s campaign is notable because “neurodiversity has for so long been underrepresented” in advertising and media, said Kate Pozzi, creative director at Havas London. Yet in the U.K., about 15% of the population (or one in seven people) is neurodivergent, according to various reports. 

Few marketers have attempted to address these audiences, many from “fear,” “paralysis” and a lack of understanding about their authentic experiences, King observed. 

“There’s progress, but nowhere near enough,” he noted. 

Vanish’s campaign has been successful in part because it relied on the community and partnered with experts, like Ambitious About Autism, to tell their stories, King observed. 

Most important, advertisers that want to represent neurodivergent communities should “elevate people’s stories and pass the mic to these individuals,” King added. 

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