People 09 November 2017
Brands working with celebrities is nothing new. Brands using their platforms to tell a story has been done too. And while merging the two is just the natural progression—it's never been done quite the way that Elizabeth Arden and Reese Witherspoon are collaborating.
Tapped as the legendary beauty brand's “Storyteller-in-Chief," Reese isn't just sharing the inspirational story of Elizabeth Arden's impact to a new generation. She's also weaving it together with her own narrative and backstory.
Being that Elizabeth Arden is a brand that's over 100 years old and was likely loved and respected by your grandmother, this is new territory as they attempt to reach out to a younger yet equally empowered generation of women. Just like Elizabeth Arden never followed the rules, this campaign isn't being launched by checking off the boxes of what should be done or what's expected. Instead, ICED Media, the agency behind it all is breathing fresh life into the traditional marketing campaign.
Sitting down with ICED Media's president, Leslie Hall, we went deep into how this campaign was conceived and the new approach they're taking to truly stand out in the crowded market of inspiring and empowering women.
And, be sure to check out Reese's storyteller-in-chief here.
How did this idea to bring on a storyteller-in-chief originate?There was this tension that on the one hand, there were a lot of brands talking about powerful women. It was a little bit of a crowded conversation. On the other hand, here's Elizabeth Arden, a brand with one of the most palpable justifications to be part of that conversation but it just wasn't right. It was a delicate dance. How do you tell your story in a way that you know will resonate, especially at a time when it's needed, without feeling like you're a 'me, too?' And, when [ICED Media] first started on this journey with Elizabeth Arden, the thought of working with Reese didn't even exist. We had an opportunity to do it in a bit more of a quiet way.
Photo Courtesy of Vogue
Elizabeth Arden had previously brought celebrities into their brand narrative. How did that influence the path to creating the Storyteller-in-Chief role?
Thinking about the different women we used—like Chelsea Handler and Iris Apfel—they weren't A-list Hollywood Oscar winning celebrities on the red carpet every other week. But, they were women who were a bit provocative, and known for speaking their mind even when they didn't have an opinion that was popular.
They were women who weren't necessarily widely lauded by everyone. They weren't the easy choice. They weren't the safe choice, but they were women that really embodied that spirit of being champions of other women, carving their own path, and not doing the formulaic approach to fame and yet still became a household name. I think that allowed us to move forward in an authentic way that was true to the brand.
And then bringing in Reese, who IS a big, A-list, Oscar winning star—how did that come about?
I give the Elizabeth Arden brand and I give Reese and her team a lot of credit. It's rare that someone at her level of celebrity is willing to be positioned as multi-faceted, and willing to be more than just the face of a brand. And, is willing to even explore the parallels of themselves in context to an iconic business person, or an iconic entrepreneur—as opposed to just being recognized in one area for one craft for which their celebrity was built. When you look at a lot of brands that work with celebrities of a certain caliber, it often feels like the brand is making the celebrity more famous, or the brand is leveraging its advertising reach to put the celebrity on a pedestal. I think when you look at this content and you look at this campaign, it's Reese using her celebrity to tell Elizabeth Arden's story, and to make the legacy of this iconic entrepreneur known to a new generation of women. It's Reese giving a history lesson to a new generation. You don't see that a lot. It's one of the things that I'm most proud of, because it gives the brand an opportunity to reinforce not only what they stand for, but also reinforce the brand values that they were founded on. It's a happy coincidence that many of those brand values happen to be so timely in today's conversations, newsfeeds, and political climate.
What is the movement and subsequent conversation that you want this campaign to spark?
The movement is about inspiring a new generation of women. We're in a climate today where you see things like this manifesto from this person at Google where he talks about how biologically, women shouldn't be in leadership roles because biologically women aren't capable of being leaders and things of that nature. Our movement is about inspiring a new generation of women to have a more robust breadth of role models. Taking a woman like Elizabeth Arden, who at the turn of the century, not only created much of what the modern-day beauty industry is, but also marched with the Suffragettes and made lipstick colors that matched uniforms during World War II. It's the idea that a woman can be a role model in many different areas. She can be business-minded, but she can also align with causes that are important to her and make real change, and be a champion of other women.
How does Reese embody that?
She's someone who's known for bringing women's stories to the forefront. That's something that she's used her fame and celebrity in Hollywood to do. As a brand, we believe women's stories are really important. The first story we've partnered with Reese to tell is the story of Elizabeth Arden. As we do that, we'll look at some of the parallels between Reese's career and Elizabeth Arden's career. Then, we'll make sure that we're going to continue using this platform to bring more of these untold stories to the forefront ... and inspire women so that more stories can be told.
And, Reese is a champion of women. She's spoken out about pay equality in Hollywood. She's been very choosy with the causes that are important to her as well. I think it's not necessarily a movement that's about being prescriptive in terms of 'let's tell women here's our particular call to action, and here's what we want them to do.' I think it's more about 'here are women who are extraordinary, but often, those are not the stories being told. Those are not the stories that are being brought to the forefront in popular culture, film, advertising, and brand narratives.' We want to be a force for making those stories known. We want to bring those stories to the forefront. That's where really where storyteller-in-chief came in. It wasn't 'let's use Reese as an ambassador.' Let's not use her as just the face of the brand—but let's use her as the storyteller in chief.
How do you want the user to react? Are you looking for them to then tell you their stories?
I think we're very much in this era of a lot of marketers living in a 'check the box' campaign world. I think they feel that every campaign must have this 'here's how the user tells their story' component or 'here's how the user creates their own content.' It's really is about creating a movement where the visual cues that are created with the brand content are so subtly nuanced that over time, the consumer is trained to mirror that back to the brand. I think when you look at this our program, especially with Reese and with a storyteller-in-chief, this moment doesn't need to be a 'tell us your story right now.' That's not the point of this. Elizabeth Arden hasn't earned that yet. This is a brand, that when we started working with them, wasn't on the radar for this consumer at all; like not even Gen X. This is a brand that was largely speaking to a woman probably in her upper 40s or 50s.
Photo Courtesy of Draper James
So, is this a chance for Elizabeth Arden to reach that younger demo?
For the first time, Elizabeth Arden is starting to speak to a new generation of women. It's probably not realistic that those women will start telling their stories to Elizabeth Arden. I think when you look at the evolution of the brand, and you look at the full consumer journey, we're in what I'll call the awareness stage of that journey and that evolution. I think to jump from, 'Here's an opportunity for the brand to introduce Reese, educate women on the story of who this iconic entrepreneur was' and then immediately say, 'Now tell us your story,' is just not realistic and not consistent with what a brand should expect to get from a consumer. The point of the campaign at this moment is really to create this universe of the brand, let the consumer know what the brand stands for, and then over time, really let them in to understand; and then create a universe of content that the consumer can start to mirror back.
It's not to say that down the line, there wouldn't be more pronounced calls to action, but I'm very much a believer that a brand first needs to earn that from the consumer.
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.