Naomi Campbell, Ad Exec Steve Stoute Discuss Culture, Marketing During Ad Week Panel

October 2, 2012  |  

Advertising Week is happening here in New York. And, kind of crazy, Naomi Campbell sat in on panel discussion yesterday afternoon, “The Currency of Culture in Marketing.” Steve Stoute, the founder of marketing firm Translations moderated.

We tweeted a few snippets from the event yesterday afternoon, but as a whole, the point was to talk about how brands can leverage pop culture and current events as a branding tool. Paul Chibe, VP of US marketing at Anheuser-Busch, which just recently, through its Budweiser brand, was part of Jay-Z’s “Made in America” concert festival, said the key is being relevant at cultural “tension points.” So brands need to be mindful of what’s happening in music, in the news, and generally be aware of which way the cultural winds are blowing. And where their brands, products and services can participate, they should.

However, it has to be done in a way that’s natural. For example, Pam El, State Farm’s VP of marketing who was recently named to Ad Age‘s list of most influential women, talked about that company’s campaign with the animated film Cars. They’re an insurance company, it was a movie about cars, so it made sense. (State Farm is listed on the media alert we received as one of Translation’s clients. Budweiser and Coca-Cola, which was also repped on the panel by assistant VP of marketing Kimberly Page, are also among the firm’s clients.)

And then there was Luke Wood, president and COO at Beats by Dr. Dre, who talked about that company’s experience at the London Olympics. Technically, they weren’t a sponsor, Wood said. But Beats headphones were everywhere because the athletes all had them, courtesy of the company. “We were in the cultural waters,” said Wood. Rather than going the traditional route with the Olympics, which he called “stale,” he went to the younger, cooler athletes.

And what could a supermodel add to this discussion? An interesting twist actually. Campbell talked about how difficult it is for black models in the fashion industry. According to Campbell, she grew up without much talk of race, but became part of the conversation when she began her career. “With the help of designers, agents… and others behind me pushing, I made it through,” Campbell said.  “There are magazines that still won’t put a black model on the cover.” Vogue Italia and its special edition dedicated to black models is an exception. Campbell considers editor Franca Sozzani as an advocate for diversity. And ultimately, Campbell has become a pop culture icon despite the obstacles.

She also gave a couple of interesting and juicy tidbits from her 28 years in the industry. Looking back, she remembered the famous designer, now deceased, who helped her to become the first black model on the cover of French Vogue. Stoute, and many in the audience no doubt, thought she was talking about Gianni Versace. Actually, she was referring to Yves Saint Laurent. She also talked about bringing Jay Z and Diddy to Cannes for the first time years ago and the enthusiastic reception they received. “They couldn’t believe how they were treated,” she recalled. “People commented on how they brought glamour and that way of life. I want to put the best with the best.”

Oh, and also, she has a new show, The Face, a kind of America’s Next Top Model in which she’ll serve as a mentor to 24 contestants.

In a final bit, she echoed a sentiment by Chibe about the need to take risks. Earlier in the discussion, he made clear that there will be times when you try something that doesn’t work. But in the end, you won’t get anywhere if you don’t go out on a limb. Campbell also advised everyone to get in on the ground floor with talented people that you believe in.

“I first work with brands when they’re young, knowing that as they get bigger, they take you with them,” she said.

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