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How a Jenni Kayne Breastfeeding Billboard Went Viral Online

The brand saw a triple-digit increase in sales from an outdoor poster campaign in New York City.
Tylynn Nguyen. Photo: Jenni Kayne

Tylynn Nguyen. Photo: Jenni Kayne

Can a physical, IRL ad drive sales and engagement online? One wouldn’t necessarily think so, but Los Angeles-based designer Jenni Kayne has done it with her first physical outdoor campaign ever, in fact.

Known for its elevated, classic, relaxed wardrobe staples, the brand launched a campaign called "Find Your Uniform" on May 7 featured on posters displayed throughout New York City, where it recently opened a brick-and-mortar store. It stars "real" (albeit conventionally attractive) women Phoebe Tonkin, Lara Worthington and Tylynn Nguyen dressed in simple clothing like jeans and sweaters — i.e., their uniforms. The idea is that they're just being themselves, and in one of the images posted throughout the city, Nguyen is captured breastfeeding her newborn. It went about viral, with many people sharing images of the real-life billboards and posters in Instagram stories and in their feeds. Several posts featured the widely-used hashtag #normalizebreastefeeding, and it even gained the attention of celebrities and influencers; Kristen Bell, Hannah Bronfman, Lauren Bush Lauren, Meredith Melling, Athena Calderone and Cristina Eherlich are among the women who shared the IRL imagery on social media. (Some of these women, it's probably worth noting, seem to know Kayne personally.)

According to the brand, organic user-generated content from the breastfeeding image reached as many as 4 million people, with the brand seeing a 1,305-percent increase in UGC week over week. Of course, social media visibility and engagement is great, but it doesn't always translate to sales. For Jenni Kayne, it apparently did. Sales across all channels — that includes six stores in New York and California, plus e-commerce — have more than tripled year-over-year in the time since the campaign launched, according to the brand.

According to Kayne, the breastfeeding image of Nguyen wasn't planned. "She is a working mom and had brought her baby to set that day. Although bringing a newborn to work is a privilege for far too few women, feeding is an absolute necessity," wrote Kayne over email. "It was a happy accident that the image spoke to the campaign, which is about more than just clothes and commodity — it's about women feeling comfortable and true to who they are."

Athena Calderone's Instagram Story. Photo: @eyeswoon/Instagram

Athena Calderone's Instagram Story. Photo: @eyeswoon/Instagram

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For the brand, the campaign was meant to be seen as an antidote to traditional fashion imagery that often connotes an aspirational, even unattainable appearance or lifestyle, and reflect the way in which Kayne is decidedly going against the traditional fashion brand model. "Most apparel and fashion brands are focused on the old way of doing things — constantly creating new product, developing huge collections of novelty styles every season that reflect changing trends, which predictably go on markdown and quickly feel dated," explains Jenni Kayne President Julia Hunter when asked about the campaign's goals. "We disagree with that model. We design products that a woman will love season after season and that are cohesive across categories, touching aspects of her life from her wardrobe to her home."

We've seen breastfeeding in a number of magazine editorials over the years, so why now did this image resonate so strongly with so many people? It could be that while those breastfeeding images looked like editorialized, glamorous fashion shoots, the shot of Nguyen is more relatable. "It's not exciting anymore to create campaigns that alienate real women with unattainable imagery, designed to make us feel we constantly need to do more or have more to be better versions of ourselves. It's simply not true," says Hunter. "Women are looking for honesty and vulnerability now more than ever. Our shared experiences and challenges are coming to light, but at times they sit in contrast with our social media culture of perfection, and it's important to our team to find a way to navigate that as thoughtfully as we can."

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Kayne's campaign ties into a broader movement of ads that eschew "perfection" for reality, often through inclusive and diverse casting and/or a body-positive message. Take Glossier's Body Hero campaign, which featured real women of all shapes and sizes, including a pregnant woman, in the nude, on billboards. Many people were surprised that a digital-native brand like Glossier would choose such a traditional advertising method, but I saw those images more on social media (from people snapping pics of the billboards) than I did IRL. 

The reason these images catch our attention, and compel us to share them, is probably a combination of the fact that they're so unlike the images we're used to seeing, and that we feel connected to them, because they feel so real.

Either way, they're clearly effective.

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