Brand Strategy

Where Swehl—and its censored breastfeeding ad—goes from here

After its ad in Times Square featuring chef Molly Baz was taken down, co-founder Elizabeth Myer said Swehl has seen an “outpouring of support” as the campaign has expanded to other cities.
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Screenshot via @swehl/Instagram

4 min read

Swehl wants to be known for more than recent events.

Over the last few weeks, the lifestyle brand, which provides tools and resources for breastfeeding, was embroiled in the latest example of the double standard in depictions of women’s bodies in advertising after a campaign image of cook and recipe developer Molly Baz holding lactation cookies over her bra with the tagline, “Just add milk,” was pulled by Clear Channel, the company powering the billboard. (The ad eventually returned to Times Square after the probiotics brand Seed donated a portion of its billboard to Swehl.)

In response to the controversy, one marketer wrote in Adweek that “advertisements from brands like Skims and Michael Kors routinely showcase women’s bodies in a decidedly sexual context” in Times Square, and Baz herself took to Instagram to write that it’s okay to “bring on the lingerie so long as it satiates the male gaze.”

Elizabeth Myer, co-founder of Swehl, told us that she and her co-founder Betsy Riley “didn’t want Swehl to become something that was overshadowed by this narrative of lactation cookies or controversy.”

Instead, she wants to capitalize on the momentum to bring attention to topics like breastfeeding education, parental community building, and women’s rights issues like bodily autonomy and paid federal leave—something that she said feels doable based on the outpouring of support the brand has received since the original ad was taken down.

“What’s really transpired since then feels, to us, like more of a movement almost,” she said. “It’s exciting for us to get to see breastfeeding become part of the national zeitgeist.”

The b(r)e(a)st is yet to come

Even though Swehl is just a year old, this isn’t the first time it has faced these types of challenges. Myer told us that the brand, which counts just her and Riley as its only full-time employees, has run into issues on platforms like Instagram before it was categorized as a breastfeeding brand—an experience that other brands, like Frida, have also reported.

In the case of the Baz ad, Myer said that they tried to think through every detail so that the image wouldn’t be flagged as inappropriate, including making Baz’s rhinestone bra visible to avoid a potential nudity clause violation.

While it wasn’t enough to keep the original billboard up, Myer told us that she and Riley “don’t think that this is reflective of [Clear Channel’s] ethos at large,” adding that “men and women from everywhere have ultimately been really supportive…in pointing out the hypocrisy.” Clear Channel did not respond to Marketing Brew’s request for comment.

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To date, Swehl has spent zero dollars on ad placements, Myer said. The original Times Square ad featuring Baz was free as part of an agreement with financial service company Brex, she said, and the replacement was a gift from Seed. Since then, Myer said the brand has been gifted even more OOH ad space by “lots of parents” in Philadelphia, LA, and NYC, broadening the reach of what was originally supposed to be a quick Mother’s Day campaign.

“[Seed] really spearheaded this ultimate gesture for us,” Myer said. “We had so many brands and people come and reach out to us.”

Ara Katz, co-founder and co-CEO of Seed, told us that the brand saw a lot of support from other brands when it stepped in to offer its billboard spot, which to her was a sign of “how much we all really want to see these messages amplified in the world” in terms of women’s representation in ads.

Myer said that Swehl has seen an increase in the number of brand partners interested in working with it in recent weeks, and has also tracked growth in traffic and in DTC sales. Both Myer and Katz said Swehl and Seed, respectively, have received a lot of earned media attention as a result.

“Something that we were thinking of a lot after [the ad] was taken down is that a controversy of this nature would typically also come with a wave of negative press,” Myer said. “And it didn’t for us.”

So what’s next for Swehl as the controversy dies down? Myer said the brand plans to start putting paid spend behind its marketing as it gets ready to release its “next few SKUs,” as well as a new subscription series. Swehl is also getting ready to make its first full-time hire as it continues to host events (like “hot mom walks”) around the country.

“We feel like the events of the past several weeks just solidify that we have a message and product that not only resonates but is really needed by this generation of parents,” Myer said. “We feel really emboldened on our mission.”

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