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.
Not too many years ago, my advice to political candidates would have been pretty simple: "Don't do or say anything stupid." But the last few elections have rendered that advice outdated.
When Barack Obama referred to his grandmother as a "typical white woman" during the 2008 campaign, for example, many people thought it would cost him the election -- and once upon a time, it probably would have. But his supporters were focused on the values and positions he professed, and they weren't going to let one unwise comment distract them. Candidate Obama didn't even get much pushback for saying, "We're five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America." That statement should have given even his most ardent supporters pause, but it didn't. It was in line with everything Obama had previously said, and it was what his supporters wanted to hear.
2016: What rules?
Fast forward to 2016, and Donald Trump didn't just ignore traditional norms, he almost seemed to relish violating them. Who would have ever dreamed we'd elect a man who talked openly about grabbing women by the **** and who was constantly blasting out crazy-sounding Tweets? But Trump did get elected. Why? Some people believe it was because Americans finally felt like they had permission to show their bigotry. Others think Obama had pushed things so far to the left that right-wing voters were more interested in dragging public policy back toward the middle than in what Trump was Tweeting.
Another theory is that Trump's lewd, crude, and socially unacceptable behavior was deliberately designed to make Democrats feel comfortable campaigning on policies that were far further to the left than they ever would have attempted before. Why? Because they were sure America would never elect someone who acted like Trump. If that theory is right, and Democrats took the bait, Trump's "digital policies" served him well.
And although Trump's brash style drew the most handlines, he wasn't the only one who seemed to have forgotten the, "Don't do or say anything stupid," rule. Hillary Clinton also made news when she made a "basket of deplorables" comment at a private fundraiser, but it leaked out, and it dogged her for the rest of the election cycle.
And that's where we need to start our discussion. Now that all the old rules about candidate behavior have been blown away, do presidential candidates even need digital policies?
Yes, they do. More than ever, in my opinion. Let me tell you why.
Digital policies for 2020 and beyond
While the 2016 election tossed traditional rules about political campaigns to the trash heap, that doesn't mean you can do anything you want. Even if it's just for the sake of consistency, candidates need digital policies for their own campaigns, regardless of what anybody else is doing. Here are some important things to consider.
Align your digital policies with your campaign strategy
Aside from all the accompanying bells and whistles, why do you want to be president? What ideological beliefs are driving you? If you were to become president, what would you want your legacy to be? Once you've answered those questions honestly, you can develop your campaign strategy. Only then can you develop digital policies that are in alignment with the overall purpose -- the "Why?" -- of your campaign:
- If part of your campaign strategy, for example, is to position yourself as someone who's above the fray of the nastiness of modern politics, then one of your digital policies should be that your campaign will never post or share anything that attacks another candidate on a personal level. Attacks will be targeted only at the policy level.
- While it's not something I would recommend, if your campaign strategy is to depict the other side as "deplorables," then one of your digital policies should be to post and share every post, meme, image, etc. that supports your claim.
- If a central piece of your platform is that detaining would-be refugees at the border is inhumane, then your digital policies should state that you will never say, post, or share anything that contradicts that belief, even if Trump plans to relocate some of them to your own city. Complaining that such a move would put too big a strain on local resources -- even if true -- would be making an argument for the other side. Don't do it.
- Don't be too quick to share posts or Tweets from supporters. If it's a text post, read all of it to make sure there's not something in there that would reflect negatively on you. And examine images closely to make sure there's not a small detail that someone may notice.
- Decide what your campaign's voice and tone will be. When you send out emails asking for donations, will you address the recipient as "friend" and stress the urgency of donating so you can continue to fight for them? Or will you personalize each email and use a more low-key, collaborative approach?
Those are just a few examples. The takeaway is that your online behavior should always support your campaign strategy. While you could probably get away with posting or sharing something that seems mean or "unpresidential," posting something that contradicts who you say you are could be deadly to your campaign. Trust me on this -- if there are inconsistencies, Twitter will find them and broadcast them to the world. And you'll have to waste valuable time, resources, and public trust to explain those inconsistencies away.
Remember that the most common-sense digital policies still apply
The 2016 election didn't abolish all of the rules. Some still apply and should definitely be included in your digital policies:
- Claim every domain you can think of that a supporter might type into a search engine. Jeb Bush not claiming www.jebbush.com (the official campaign domain was www.jeb2016.com) was a rookie mistake, and he deserved to have his supporters redirected to Trump's site.
- Choose your campaign's Twitter handle wisely. It should be obvious, not clever or cutesy. In addition, consider creating accounts with possible variations of the Twitter handle you chose so that no one else can use them.
- Give the same care to selecting hashtags. When considering a hashtag, conduct a search to understand its current use -- it might not be what you think! When making up new hashtags, try to avoid anything that could be hijacked for a different purpose -- one that might end up embarrassing you.
- Make sure that anyone authorized to Tweet, post, etc., on your behalf has a copy of your digital policies and understands the reasons behind them. (People are more likely to follow a rule if they understand why it's important.)
- Decide what you'll do if you make an online faux pas that starts a firestorm. What's your emergency plan?
- Consider sending an email to supporters who sign up on your website, thanking them for their support and suggesting ways (based on digital policies) they can help your messaging efforts. If you let them know how they can best help you, most should be happy to comply. It's a small ask that could prevent you from having to publicly disavow an ardent supporter.
- Make sure you're compliant with all applicable regulations: campaign finance, accessibility, privacy, etc. Adopt a double opt-in policy, so that users who sign up for your newsletter or email list through your website have to confirm by clicking on a link in an email. (And make sure your email template provides an easy way for people to unsubscribe.)
- Few people thought 2016 would end the way it did. And there's no way to predict quite yet what forces will shape the 2020 election. Careful tracking of your messaging (likes, shares, comments, etc.) will tell you if you're on track or if public opinion has shifted yet again. If so, your messaging needs to shift with it. Ideally, one person should be responsible for monitoring reaction to the campaign's messaging and for raising a red flag if reactions aren't what was expected.
Thankfully, the world hasn't completely lost its marbles
Whatever the outcome of the election may be, candidates now face a situation where long-standing rules of behavior no longer apply. You now have to make your own rules -- your own digital policies. You can't make assumptions about what the voting public will or won't accept. You can't assume that "They'll never vote for someone who acts like that"; neither can you assume, "Oh, I can get away with that, too." So do it right from the beginning. Because in this election, I predict that sound digital policies combined with authenticity will be your best friend.