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Reese Witherspoon’s Latest Collaboration Aims To Capture The Millennial Imagination

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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.
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.

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.

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Dear VCs: Making Pledges Won't Close The Funding Gap

Amid the mainstream conversation about inclusion and justice in the workplace, otherwise known as #MeToo, a Silicon Valley venture capital fund considered how they can be more inclusive of the women, minority, and LGBTQ entrepreneurial communities.

Their solution? Ask the CEOs they currently fund to promise to hire senior-level employees from diverse backgrounds.


Lightspeed Venture Partners, a venture capital fund that has investments with blockbuster startups such as The Honest Company, Affirm, and HQ Trivia, has asked its portfolio company CEOs to sign a “side letter" affirming their commitment to consider women and other underrepresented groups for senior jobs and new spots on their board of directors.

Can making pledges— or even hiring a C-Suite level employee to manage diversity efforts— really make an impact on the funding gap for multicultural women-led companies?

Many experts say it's going to take systemic change, not letters of intent.

It is well reported that the amount of investment going to multicultural women-led companies is incongruous to the entrepreneurial landscape and the performance of their businesses. Between 2007 and 2016, there was an increase of 2.8 million companies owned by women of color. Nearly eight out of every 10 new women-owned firms launched since 2007 has been started by a woman of color yet, these businesses receive an abysmal 0.2 percent of all funding. Amanda Johnson and KJ Miller, founders of Mented cosmetics, were just the 15th and 16th Black women in history to raise $1M in the fall of 2017.

The multicultural women who do defeat the odds to get funded receive significantly less than male founders. The average startup founded by a Black woman raises only $36,000 in venture funding, while the average failed startup founded by a White man raises $1.3M before going out of business.

The implicit and explicit bias not only impacts individual multicultural female founders, it could be stifling innovation. For example, companies with above-average diversity on their management teams reported innovation revenue as 45 percent of total revenue compared to just 26 percent of total revenue at companies with below-average management diversity. That means nearly half the revenue of companies with more diverse leadership comes from products and services launched in the past three years.

In our economy today, venture capital is responsible for funding the work of our most innovative companies. Venture capital-backed U.S. companies include some of the most innovative companies in the world. In 2013, VC-backed companies account for a 42 percent of the R&D spending by U.S. public companies.

With a wealth of multicultural women entrepreneurs and evidence to support the performance of diverse companies, why does this funding gap persist?

According to Kristin Hull, founder of Oakland-based Nia Impact Capital and Nia Community, many traditional investors consider women or minority-led businesses as a category in their portfolio, like gaming tech or consumer packaged good. Hull, who focuses on building portfolios where financial returns and social impact work hand-in-hand, argues gender and ethnicity are not a business category and investors who dedicate a specific percent of their portfolio to diverse companies are the ones missing out.

“We are doing this backwards," says Hull. “Adding diverse, women-run companies actually de-risks an investment portfolio."

Hull points to research that has found women are more likely to seek outside help when a company is headed for trouble and operate businesses with less debt on average. What's more, a study conducted by First Round Capital concluded that founding teams including a woman outperform their all-male peers by 63 percent.

Ximena Hardstock, a 43-year-old immigrant from Chile experienced this bias first hand before she raised $5.1M for her tech startup. “How do you get an investor to notice you and take you seriously?" says Hardstock. “White men from Harvard have a track record and investors are all looking for entrepreneurs that fit the Zuckerberg mold. But a woman from Chile with an accent who started a technology company? There is no track record for that and this is a problem so many women of color face."

Hardstock came to the U.S. from the suburbs of Santiago when she was just 20-years-old. Alone with no family or connections in the U.S., Hardstock worked as a cleaning lady, a bartender, and a nanny before she began teaching and working in education. “I had a lot of ideas and Chile is still a very conservative country," she says. “Most women become housewives but I wanted to do something different. So, I moved to the U.S."

Hardstock went on to earn a Ph.D. in policy studies, served as vice president of Advocacy for National StudentsFirst and worked as a member of Washington DC mayor Adrian Fenty's cabinet. Her experience working in both education and government exposed her to a need to simplify the process of connecting lawmakers with their constituents. As a result, Hardstock founded Phone2Action, a digital advocacy company that enables organizations and individual citizens to connect with policymakers via email, Twitter, Alexa and Facebook using their mobile phones.

Because venture capital and private equity are not necessarily meritocracies, Hardstock initially struggled to get in an audience with the right investors despite her company's growth potential, her experience, and her education. In fact, it wasn't until she won a competition at SXSW in 2015 that she could get an audience with a serious venture capitalist.

While it may seem like symptoms of a bygone era, both Hardstock and Hull say the path to investor relationships is forged in places where many women of diverse backgrounds are not – ivy league organizations, golf courses and late night post-board meeting cocktails attended mostly by White men of means.

The history of venture capital has never been very balanced, according to Aubrey Blanche, global head of diversity at Atlassian software development company and co-founder of Sycamore, an organization aiming to fix the VC funding gap for underrepresented founders. “White and Asian men have built the venture system and for generations have been seeking out people like themselves to invest in."

Personal and professional networks are critical for founders to connect with investors, but many multicultural women don't have access to the networks their White peers have. According to a study conducted by PRRI, the average White person has one friend who is Black, Latino, Asian, mixed race, and other races. This common situation makes getting that all important warm introduction to established VCs very challenging for multicultural women founders.

“Is the ecosystem of your network equivalent to your net worth? Absolutely," says Hardstock. “For us, we have to build our own ecosystem and recreate what happens on the golf courses and at the Harvard reunions."

To Hardstock's point, most multicultural women with entrepreneurial aspirations lack that Ivy League network. According to reporting published in The New York Times, Black students make up just nine percent of the freshmen at Ivy League schools but 15 percent of college-age Americans. This gap has been largely unchanged since 1980.

While notable female investors such as Arlan Hamilton, Joanne Wilson, and Kathryn Finney are actively working to close the funding gap for women of color, only seven percent of current senior investing partners at the top 100 venture firms are women. Less than three percent of VC funds have Black and Latinx investment partners. Without an influential network, Hardstock and entrepreneurs like her are left screaming for a seat at the table.

When Black, Latina, and Asian women founders do get in the room with the right investors, they have to work harder to get the investors to relate to their products and services. “Entrepreneurs solve problems they understand," says Blanche. “When multicultural women entrepreneurs present their businesses to a homogenous group of male investors who may not be equipped to understand the idea, they may pass on an amazing business."

Take, for example, the founders of Haute Hijab or LOLA. Founders of both successful startups would have to explain the market for their services to a table occupied mostly by men who may never have considered that Muslim women want more convenient access to fashion and have never considered women might prefer to purchase organic tampons.

This lack of familiarity typically means reduced funding for women and a host of other consequences.

As one recent study pointed out, even the way investors frame questions to women can impact funding. According to the Harvard Business Review, female founders are often asked “prevention-oriented" questions focused on safety, responsibility, security, and vigilance. Male founders, on the other hand, are often asked questions focused on hopes, achievement, advancement, and ideals.

When all of these factors are considered, a side letter may not be enough to begin to close the funding gap.

Both Blanche and Hull say real change can be made by democratizing information and education on impact investing. Both women say educating investors and MBA candidates about impact investing is the best way to overcome current bias.

Blanche's organization, Sycamore, produces a newsletter for new angel investors who want to help close the funding gap while making money in the process. Hull's firm has an internship program for multicultural girls from Oakland to expose them to the worlds of investing, entrepreneurship, business leadership, and financial literacy.

“I'm excited about the changes I see," says Blanche. “I see more firm employing the Rooney Law on an institutional level, an increase in smaller firms looking at underserved communities, and the democratization of institutional funding."

Hull adds that as long as multi-cultural women-led firms continue to show returns and outperform or perform on par with companies founded by White men, the investor community will rethink their portfolio strategies.


This piece was originally published in 2018.