Inside Planned Parenthood's Defiant Brand Strategy Post-Roe

Brand chief Lauren Garcimonde-Fisher on the fight for women's rights, and how creatives can help

In the months before and after Roe v. Wade was overturned, few organizations have been as well positioned to protest the decision—and lead the ongoing fight for abortion rights—as the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The nonprofit, founded in 1916, is the single largest provider of reproductive health services, including abortion, in the U.S. In addition to providing healthcare, Planned Parenthood also engages in political advocacy, using funding and communications to stridently defend the right to abortion—a right that suffered a generational setback with the fall of Roe.

Planned Parenthood recently received the Vanguard Award at the 2022 Clio Health Awards, celebrating the organization’s efforts through communications to protect the freedom of choice. To get a sense of how that messaging has evolved in recent months, from a brand and advertising perspective, Muse spoke with Lauren Garcimonde-Fisher, VP of brand and culture strategy. We discussed the "Force of Nature" brand spot, navigating the emotional journey of supporters, activating corporations to help, and recruiting brands and creatives to get involved in the fight.

Our conversation has been lightly edited and condensed.

Muse: Leading up to the Supreme Court's decision in June, how did your brand strategy evolve to meet the moment?

Lauren Garcimonde-Fisher: Early on, we had a lot of research that showed people didn't really believe Roe v. Wade was going to be overturned. So in the months leading up to the decision, we prioritized communicating about the urgency of the risk that abortion access was facing. After the decision was leaked in early May, we no longer had a believability problem. People believed the overturn was possible and even likely. So our strategy shifted to getting people ready and helping them understand the impact the decision was going to have. 

We knew this decision was coming, and we knew it was going to be devastating. We expected there would be confusion about what it meant for people, how it would impact them. It's one thing to hear abortion is no longer a constitutionally protected right, but it's another thing to understand, what does that mean for me? What does it mean for my community? And it meant different things to different audiences. Our primary audience is our patients; we wanted to make sure they had information about what care would be available and how they could access it. We also thought about our supporters. They also look to us for information about what's going on in the country and what they can do to make a difference. So we mapped out what we called the "emotional journey" we expected our supporters to take. Then we created messages and materials that met them where they were emotionally. 

We need to be really clear about who is to blame for this decision. We have to remain defiant in the face of opposition and defeat. We know this fight is far from over. Generations have been fighting for these rights, and we know the next generation is going to have less rights unless we fight on.

Planned Parenthood is very much a leader in guiding that emotional journey—in helping people with how they feel about the decision, and know how to fight back.

Absolutely. A lot of people in the U.S. turn to Planned Parenthood for information. And we're just part of the larger ecosystem. There are so many organizations who are in this fight with us. There's our Planned Parenthood health centers. There's independent clinics. There's abortion funds, legal defense funds, so many partners in the reproductive justice space. It's about how the whole ecosystem comes together and galvanizes people in this moment.

Our challenge is to make it clear what the fight is actually about. It is about the fight to control your own body and make decisions that impact your future. For us, it's not only about galvanizing support—people overwhelmingly support access to safe and legal abortion, so this wasn't something we needed to convince them of. We needed to talk to them about what that looks like in this moment? It was really helping patients understand that our doors remain open, that they can still come to us for care, and taking the opportunity to introduce ourselves through our values and through the full breadth of services we provide to anyone in need of sexual and reproductive health. Abortion is a core service, and we're very proud to offer abortion. We also have all these other services you can still come to us for.

Why was the "Force of Nature" spot, creatively, the right message at the right time?

"Force of Nature" was designed by thinking about that emotional journey and offering a call to action that was in this defiance and empowerment stage. The spot begins with information about what has happened, and what anti-abortion lawmakers have planned. We know restricting access to abortion is just the first part of what they're thinking about. They want to expand into birth control, into marriage equality. So it was about making it clear what this is about—and then transitioning to how we can transform the future by joining together. How we create the future we deserve. How we provide hope for what that future can actually be.

Force of Nature | Planned Parenthood

It was really important for us to show who is impacted by these decisions, to really illustrate how the generations are coming together to protect these rights and fight back. And to show the groundswell of support that already exists across the U.S. You see that we used footage from rallies that have happened over the last few months. And this is not something that's fringe. This is a popular perspective people have. We worked with Virtue Worldwide, which is the creative agency out of Vice. They were fantastic partners.

You also have the Planned Parenthood brand identity that's been built up over decades. How does that factor in?

Planned Parenthood is a legacy brand. We've been around for over 105 years, but we're also a brand that looks into the future. A lot of our priority audiences are young people who don't know anything about a 100-year-old brand. We have a real opportunity to introduce ourselves. So how does our brand respect our legacy and then also look toward the future of what comes next and what is it our audiences need?

I'm sure you saw the comedic abortion ad that went viral in Texas. Do you feel, in this ecosystem, there's room for all types of creative messaging?

I saw that. I thought it was really clever and also strategically sound. Politicians and lawmakers are trying to be in our most private conversations with our doctors. Comedy can be hard. There's a lot of nuance. We at Planned Parenthood—and others as well, this is not unique to us—think a lot about abortion stigma and how to normalize abortion as part of the full spectrum of sexual and reproductive health care. I think as long as people acknowledge that nuance—and ensure nothing we are doing further stigmatizes or creates shame around a normal medical procedure—then I think there's space for all sorts of approaches.

How have corporations and influencers been approaching you, wanting to help?

We're lucky to have great partnerships. We knew the importance of the moment, so we were ready to go with a number of brand activations. Corporate partners, celebrities, influencers, all sorts of other supporters—both of Planned Parenthood and just of the right to abortion—were ready with brand and issue messaging to share internally in corporate settings as well as with followers on decision day.

We have been inundated, as you can imagine, with companies and individuals reaching out to help. We're having conversations around how to get everyone and every company in the fight. In the months since the decision, our partners and supporters have really stepped up. One example of that is, on July 13, corporate partners led a national walkout to make it clear this was not business as usual. We had participants from all 50 states—thousands of employees from all levels of their organizations—who walked away from work and took to social media to stand in solidarity with abortion providers and patients. It was really inspiring to see people cause this kind of disruption and bring these conversations into workspaces, to start making demands of businesses around what it means to really support abortion access right now.

We've also been invited to speaking engagements across the arts and entertainment industry, in both public and private settings. We recently joined the Director's Guild of America in conversations with film and TV directors around how to represent abortion in storylines. We did what we call a late-night takeover—one day, we had folks on every single late-night show, either as part of the monologue or having our president, Alexis McGill Johnson, on Seth Meyers. We had all sorts of celebs wearing our "Bans Off Our Bodies" pins. They've become a hot commodity. It's been an opportunity for us to really think about the corporate and cultural levers that make change in the U.S.

Are you happy with what companies and brands are doing overall, or should they be doing more?

I think it's a mix. Some companies have really stepped up. They're changing their policies. They're ensuring their employees have health insurance benefits that cover abortion care. They're providing that care. If people need to travel to a state where abortion is accessible, they're making sure people's privacy is respected. We're seeing a lot of good first steps, and I think there's so much more we can continue to do together.

In states moving to restrict abortion care, is it difficult to navigate the legalities and logistics of messaging? I could see defiance being risky in many places.

We have an amazing team. Our brand and culture team is awesome. But we have a really amazing team across the entire federation, including Planned Parenthood's national office, where we have a robust legal team—and our affiliates also have legal teams to understand the nuances of what's going on in specific communities. As you can imagine, the abortion landscape changes by the hour. We want to make sure we understand the risk as we make certain decisions. But we also are not going to back down. We are an organization that has always stood up for what's right and protected our patients and done everything we can to get patient care. We're going to continue to do that.

The creative community has done a lot of powerful messaging on political issues, notably gun violence prevention. How can they help your efforts now?

So much good comes out of the creative community. I am always amazed and grateful for work that creative folks do, the way they apply their creative thinking and skills to big issues and problems and offer creatively focused solutions. And what a great and meaty brief this is, right?

Again, we've seen a whole bunch of folks reach out, and that includes designers and conceptual thinkers and production companies. I go to that place of, how do we create work that is grounded in insights that come from research, work that has a strong strategic foundation? And then how do we build things that really help patients access care and understand what's available when they need it? And then also, how do we ensure we're creating change? That we are being really clear about what it is we need, and how can we get creative solutions that open the door for the fight to continue in a different way?

I imagine that means a mix of big brand statements like "Force of Nature" and more tactical approaches with the audiences you're talking about.

Absolutely. There's those bigger brand moments, the campaigns, but also other storytelling. The impact of personal storytelling, of sharing your abortion story. Even if you've never had an abortion personally, why is abortion part of your value system? What does it mean to be someone who lives in a country where you're told you're not free, that you're not able to make your own decisions about your body and your life? How are we using storytelling to destigmatize abortion but also create the cultural conditions by which we can have a big impact in these political and cultural fights?

The election cycle's in full swing. I imagine you won't have much trouble maintaining defiance on this emotional journey heading to November. Can you describe where you are in that journey right now?

We know people are fired up. Before the decision, we knew there was overwhelming support for safe and legal abortion. And since the decision, every poll has shown the majority of Americans oppose rolling back their rights. We've always had a really robust supporter base and have seen the audience grow since the Supreme Court's decision. I think people are ready to rebuild and reclaim the freedom that is ours.

So I think this is an opportunity to really get out the vote. To make sure you're registered—especially in states where we see abortion bans—and be talking to people about what's going on, not only sharing your personal story but helping them understand the impact of the decision. Voting is a great thing people can do to let lawmakers and politicians know what's important to them. And abortion is important. This is our opportunity to make that clear.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards, editor of Muse by Clio, and host of the podcast Tagline. He is the former creative editor of Adweek.

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