How Brands Are Finding Success in Flipping Tired Stereotypes

December 9, 2021

By Greg Ricciardi

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From detail-obsessed Pinterest moms to loafing clueless dads, marketing has always loved a stereotype. They're easy. They're accessible. They require very little explanation or defense when thrust into a marketing campaign.

And consumers are utterly sick and tired of them.

The future belongs to the brands that are willing to defy the norm, to smash conventions, and to deliver products to new audiences in entirely new ways. All of this starts with purpose — with brands understanding and clearly defining their reason for being, beyond the mere desire to turn a profit.

For more and more brands, this process of defining purpose means examining tired conventions and outdated mindsets — and actively combatting them through their messaging, marketing, and even their products.

The opportunities for brands to influence positive change in the world and smash harmful stereotypes with good marketing are immense. Let's take a look at a few brands that are already doing just that, and the lessons other brands can glean from seeing their purpose in action.

Who Drives Electric Vehicles?


Electric vehicles have come a long way in recent years, particularly in the U.S., where massive gas-guzzling vehicles were once seemingly synonymous with the American Dream. When the hybrid Prius first hit the scene in the U.S. back in 2000, its early adopters were quickly bucketed into a common stereotype of environmentally friendly product owners: tree-hugging hippies who were more concerned with showing off their love of Mother Earth than they were in being able to accelerate properly on the freeway.

That stereotype has evolved gradually over the past two decades thanks to technological leaps in electric vehicles, not to mention the cult following of brands like Tesla. But perhaps no company has done more to put the tree-hugger electric vehicle driver stereotype in its grave than Ford did, when earlier this year it announced the Ford F-150 Lightning, an all-electric version of its insanely popular pickup.

That's a category changer — one that simultaneously closes the gap between "the tree huggers" and "pickup-loving power junkies" while making good on Ford's stated purpose to "help build a better world, where every person is free to move and pursue their dreams."

What Makes a Drink Extreme?


Much in the same way that people in the U.S. like to define each other by what they drive, they also insist on bucketing people into categories based on what they drink. For decades, brands have encouraged this tendency through their marketing and product development, encouraging exhausted moms to embrace "wine-o-clock" and reminding people that you're not a true holiday lover if your coffee isn't infused with peppermint or pumpkin spice.

The energy drink category has been one of the worst offenders over the past two decades, insisting that athletes can't possibly be serious about performance if they aren't jacking themselves full of caffeine, taurine, guarana, ginseng, L-carnitine and a whole bunch of other stimulants that it's probably best not to Google. That's why I love Liquid Death's marketing so much — a brand inventive enough to re-envision a product as basic as water as the ultimate energy drink of adrenaline junkies.

Liquid Death isn't just slick marketing, however. It's purpose-driven to its core. As the company's website states, "Our evil mission is to make people laugh and get more of them to drink more water more often, all while helping to kill plastic pollution."

And the message is resonating. This past year, the company raised $15 million in Series C funding, bringing the company's total backing to date to $50 million.

What Does a Cannabis Consumer Look Like?


Speaking of redefining stereotypes, I'd be remiss to not mention the cannabis marketplace, which is in the midst of a period of not only tremendous growth, due to the evolving regulatory landscape, but also tremendous reinvention.

As medical, legislative, and business communities increasingly recognize the benefits of cannabis legalization, the market is fast moving mainstream. But there's a legacy of dated and even dangerous stereotypes following cannabis and cannabis-adjacent companies into the marketplace that bold brands must combat on their journey.

It's time for the marketplace to set aside lowbrow representations of lazy, snack-obsessed stoners or dodgy street-corner dwellers and embrace the full range of today's modern cannabis consumer.

Thankfully savvy brands are emerging and doing just that. Consider Higher Standards, a luxury brand out of New York; the company has been demonstrating that cannabis is more than a product — it's a lifestyle and a culture unto itself. Higher Standards isn't just about selling products. It's about education and providing elevated smoking experiences.

Then there's Oakland-based Osanyin, which looks a lot different than your typical cannabis company. Committed to making a difference in its community, Osanyin is an African-Diasporic, artist- and women-owned company that's well on its way to becoming a lifestyle brand in its own right, both conscientious and cool.

Finally, there's Curaleaf, a leading U.S. medical and wellness cannabis operator. The company recently partnered with Scary Mommy to help dispel myths around cannabis usage and educate consumers on the benefits of cannabis use in the context of motherhood. This is precisely the kind of purpose-focused marketing that we need more of if the emerging cannabis industry is going to break down tired stereotypes and take its rightful place in the mainstream.

Increasingly, the future belongs to the brands that are willing to step outside the expected and do something different with their products and their marketing. In a world of commoditization, continued reliance on tired stereotypes isn't just lazy — it's irresponsible, both from a business and cultural perspective. By operating with purpose and challenging norms, brands can build a better future for themselves and their customers.


Greg Ricciardi is the president, CEO, and founder of 20nine.


The views and opinions expressed in Marketing Maestros are solely those of the contributor and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the ANA or imply endorsement from the ANA.


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