Where Gillette got it wrong, The North Face gets it right with its ‘She Moves Mountains’ campaign

Where Gillette got it wrong, The North Face gets it right with its ‘She Moves Mountains’ campaign

The Background

In the wake of the mixed reception to the Gillette campaign, The Best Men Can Be, reviewed by Will Holloway in Creative Moment a couple of weeks ago, which demonstrates how easy it is for brands to respond to the pressure to adopt social issues and get it wrong, I thought that, if for no other reason than to balance the debate, I should try and find one that had, in my opinion got it right. 

The ‘She Moves Mountains’ campaign by The North Face in early summer 2018, for me, hits the nail on the head. And it’s not just because female empowerment seems like a case with which it is hard to disagree. 

It is because, from a creative point of view, it is clear that, not only does The North Face understand its audience with deep insight, but also the whole idea of moving mountains springs from the very essence of what the brand is and how the product performs, now with a strong female focus. 

This makes the proposition credible, which is a pretty good place to start when searching for a stand-out execution. The same could be said about Nike’s ad with Colin Kaepernick last year, in that ‘Don’t ask if your dreams are crazy. Ask if they’re crazy enough’ is true to the spirit of Nike and ‘Just do it’.

The Big Idea

Boys rather than girls tend to think of themselves as explorers. 

The simple idea of the campaign is to set out to inspire young women, to think of themselves as potential explorers and pioneers by providing them with a host of role models from around the world. 

These role models are brave, resolute, adventurous and often groundbreaking women. Tom Herbst, global VP of marketing at The North Face, said in an interview last year that its theory was simple. “If women and girls see more role models in exploration, it will create more female role models for future generations.” 

That makes inspiration sound like an easy objective to achieve and whilst his observation starts from the right place and cannot be argued with, this campaign is all about ‘how you say it’ and not just ’what you say’.

What They Did

Central to the campaign are the five ‘Move Mountains’ films each featuring an inspiring female athlete, including a few of The North Face’s own. 

In addition to the five separate spots focused on each of the women, there is a big anthemic spot. The five women include climbers Ashima Shiraishi and Margo Hayes, ultra-runner and activist Fernanda Maciel, NASA scientist Tiera Guinn Fletcher and alpinist Hilaree Nelson O’Neill. 

The athletic performance of these young women is awesome, but what really brings the message home is the narrative in each spot from friends or admirers, fellow role models. 

In very personal and endearing terms they describe precisely what it is that has made each of these athletes so inspiring.

These observations are based on close personal understanding, extending even to the childhood of those featured, which make the window onto this extraordinary world of danger and extremes far more intimate than a straight documentary approach.

Additionally, The North Face is partnering with the Girl Scouts of the USA. Together they have created 12 new outdoor-focused Girl Scout badges for young women to work towards. Some of the badges focus on climbing, backpacking, hiking and trail running, and all focus on growing through outdoor experiences. 

Finally, the brand will this year expand its Explore Fund grant (designed to support female exploration) from $500,000 to $750,000.

The Review

The films, written and produced by the LA office of Sid Lee (a Toronto based Agency), feature the women pushing themselves to the limits in a compilation film that takes footage from all the athletes to produce a series of clips of women accomplishing great things both personally and professionally, from rock and mountain climbing to space exploration, to women marching for equality.

Each individual film consists of breathtaking footage with a very understated narrative, ending with the exhortation, ‘Never stop exploring.’ 

For instance, the Ashima Shiraishi film demonstrates how she makes rock faces and mountains seem infinitely climbable using her expert skills which she has been doing since she was a child. Ansel Elgort sings her praises, stating that she trains in the same gym she did as a child and that others love that by climbing in the same gym as her, they can climb with the best in the world. She inspires people to say that maybe they can revolutionise something. 

The narrative over the film featuring activist and runner, Fernanda Maciel, observes that she leaves every place she runs a little bit better. The mountain climber Hilaree Nelson O’Neill can pull a sled that other members (male) of the team failed to move. The films take your breath away. The women, as is the case with most extraordinarily able athletes, come across as modest and supremely unaffected by their stellar abilities.

The campaign is refreshing and thrilling and highly watchable. 

The more I looked at it the more I wanted to find other examples of women pioneers fulfilling their dreams. Another piece of content on the Move Mountains website that I loved was the ten-minute documentary on climbing Gora Pobeda, the Northern Hemisphere’s coldest peak, in the heart of Siberia, where temperatures drop to -71 degrees centigrade. The two climbers from Italy, Tamara Lunger and Simone Moro, share their reservations prior to departure. She says, ‘I was not sure if my body and my mind can survive’. He says, ‘You can enjoy… or you can suffer, or you can even die.’

In Hindsight

This campaign is as true to the brand’s adventurous spirit as is possible. 

A brand that is named after the coldest side of the mountain and where innovation and reliability literally make the difference between life and death. 

The campaign also makes a more revolutionary statement about female empowerment than other brands that have hitched themselves to this bandwagon, because it suggests that anything for a woman lies within the realm of possibility, no matter how dangerous or daunting the task may look, as long as you never stop looking for it, never stop exploring.

I don’t think that the agency could have done any better in its celebration of female athletes, creators, educators and explorers, young and old, who push themselves to the limit and become role models capable of changing the world. 

We don’t often see women portrayed as such strong, courageous, and inspiring athletes, but this campaign makes a powerful statement.

Finally, I really liked the fact that the company is walking the walk and not just talking the talk. It is taking its Move Mountains mantra to heart and applying the idea of female empowerment and equality to the business. Moving forward, The North Face will invest more in product design from women and work on ensuring that the gender gap is closed amongst its team of athletes, in addition to expanding its Explore Fund grant.

To return to my introduction, Move Mountains is embedded in The North Face brand and springs from the heart of its DNA, whereas Gillette’s campaign, for all its good intentions, simply looks like a somewhat obvious and clumsy attempt to exploit an important social issue.

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