Adweek’s 10 Brand Genius Honorees Don’t Know the Meaning of ‘Status Quo’

Plus, Brand Visionary Chrissy Teigen and a Brand Save nod to the determined duo behind Stand Up to Cancer

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This year's honorees are helping their brands stand out by uniting behind a common purpose. Adweek

The 10 marketing executives on this year’s list see opportunities where others see obstacles. They help their brands stand out by uniting behind a common purpose. And they never lose sight of who they’re really working for—namely, their customers. But there is one thing these Brand Genius honorees don’t know: the meaning of the term status quo.

The list begins with our Brand Visionary, Chrissy Teigen, and ends with an inspiring Brand Save story about one organization’s fight against a disease that has touched nearly everyone. —Kristina Feliciano

Marvin Chow

vp, global marketing, Google

The man who gave Google a voice
Christie Hemm Klok for Adweek

It’s not easy to convey to people within the confines of a commercial that you’ve got a solution to a problem they never thought they had. But that’s exactly what Chow managed to achieve with the “Make Google Do It” campaign promoting Google Assistant. The app, Google’s answer to Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, is designed to help users with basic, everyday tasks—from knowing how long to cook a chicken to setting a timer or establishing a calendar reminder.

“If you don’t know something, you Google it,” notes Chow. “We had this idea that in the future Google would help you do more in the real world. The idea to ‘make Google do it’ was the opposite of using Google to find information.”

A relevant message

The campaign featured top talent in a variety of humorous or relatable scenarios. Grammy-winning artist Sia asked Google to place a call, and singer John Legend waited patiently while his wife, Chrissy Teigen, tried to pick something to watch on TV on her own, despite being able to ask Google to find something quickly.

The approach has been a big hit with consumers. One ad has racked up more than 31 million views: Joe Pesci watching a fictional sequel of Home Alone—Home Alone Again—with Macaulay Culkin now an adult who uses Google Assistant to do things like add aftershave to his shopping list (in a nod to an iconic scene in the original movie).

“Anytime you’re bringing the consumer something new, you have to think about how to tell that story in a way that’s relevant to them,” notes Chow.

Celebs on command

This year, Google added a new layer to the campaign by enlisting celebrities to sub their voice for the Assistant’s—starting with Legend in April and introducing Issa Rae last month. “With answers, weather, jokes and more, your day just got a little bit more fly,” Google playfully boasted on its YouTube channel, where Rae’s commercial had been viewed more than 150,000 times in just over two weeks.

So far, the “Make Google Do It” ads have racked up millions of views on YouTube and served as a reminder of an essential rule of business: “If we’re really not helping a user do something that’s important to them,” says Chow, “then we’re really not doing our job.” —Sara Jerde

Fiona Carter

chief brand officer, AT&T

The storyteller intent on effecting change
Justin Bettman for Adweek

In 2016, Carter was reviewing a script for an AT&T Business ad when she noticed something was off: All the characters were male. “I realized in that moment that as an advertiser I had the ability to make a change,” she recalls, saying she immediately altered the casting. “It was an epiphany of the power I had to pursue a personal passion for equality.” Since then, she’s worked to ensure all of AT&T’s marketing and brand storytelling represent the diversity of the telecom’s customers and employees.

Leveling the playing field

Around the same time as Carter’s aha moment, the Association of National Advertisers was launching #SeeHer, a movement to improve the depiction of women and girls across advertising and marketing by 20% by 2020. Under Carter, AT&T became the first advertiser to incorporate the ANA’s Gender Equality Measure (GEM) into its copy testing. She also established an internal Inclusion Playbook, whose guidance on inclusivity in marketing includes attaining 50:50 gender split in casting and behind the camera, and ensuring women are in strong and primary roles in advertising.

An interesting thing resulted: “We found very quickly that those ads scoring more highly on GEM scores were scoring more highly on all our key business metrics,” she says. By the end of 2018, AT&T had delivered on its commitment to improve by 20% the positive portrayal of women a full two years ahead of the ANA’s goal.

Carter continues to find ways of driving equality and diversity at AT&T. The company supports Free the Work, an initiative that encourages the world of TV, filmmaking and music to employ a more diverse talent base. And in 2019, Carter was named co-chair of #SeeHer, which is now expanding its mission to TV and sports, working with networks like ABC, CBS, NBC and Viacom to improve representation. #SeeHerInSports has convened a collection of sporting leagues, advertisers, sponsors and TV networks to address the fact that women’s sports make up only 4% of sports coverage. As a step in the right direction, in 2019 AT&T became a sponsor of the inaugural Augusta National Women’s Amateur golf tournament.

Supporting homegrown heroes

Another pillar of Carter’s commitment to equality is elevating the diverse stories of its employees, which is why, during the 2019 Masters golf tournament (of which AT&T is a sponsor), the brand launched its AT&T Believes platform, bringing national attention to the community-building work that was naturally happening by AT&Ters around the country.

Carter says the idea for AT&T Believes came from some technicians in Chicago who were witnessing increasing gun violence. Wanting to do something about it, they opened up their tech garages for Thanksgiving dinner for the local community. “Our leadership heard about this and saw how we could bring the full force of AT&T to bear to support the grassroots efforts to uplift local neighborhoods,” Carter says.

AT&T’s support of local employee-led initiatives has now spread to 30 cities and towns and addresses issues that staff identify in their communities, from revitalizing historic neighborhoods and helping the underserved find employment to aiding the homeless. “We’re a company of people for people, but we’ve never told that story before,” Carter says. “This allows us to shine a light on the true nature of AT&T … that we’re restless and we have a bias for action.” —Rae Ann Fera

Mike Benson

Head of marketing, Amazon Studios and director of marketing, Amazon Prime (now president and CMO at CBS)

Seeing pastrami for what it is: an amazing marketing opportunity
Damon Casarez for Adweek; HOLLYWOOD™ & Design © 2019 Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. The Hollywood Sign is a trademark and intellectual property of Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. All Rights Reserved.

In 1979, The New York Times declared that the Carnegie Deli had superior pastrami to the nearby Stage Deli, setting off what it dubbed the Pastrami War. This Theater District rivalry is no more—both delis have since closed their doors for good—but it might be partly why New Yorkers and the media alike rejoiced upon the Carnegie Deli’s return last year, even if it was just for a week. (Although the 99-cent sandwiches probably didn’t hurt.)

The deli’s revival was the work of Mike Benson, who, until recently, was head of marketing for Amazon Studios and director of marketing for Amazon Prime Video. During his nearly five-year stint with Amazon, he was charged with spotlighting Prime Video’s original content—in the case of the Carnegie Deli, it was to promote the second season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which takes place in Manhattan about 20 years before the Pastrami War. But he also sought to distinguish said content from everything else consumers can watch in 2019 and position Prime Video as another reason consumers should be Prime members.

“The thing I fear most is becoming wallpaper,” Benson says. “I don’t want our shows to blend in with everything else. Look at our original content—we’re not just creating the bulk amount of shows—we take a curated approach with shows that are ambitious, visionary and ultimately premium.”

Indeed, Amazon Originals boasted 47 Emmy nominations overall this year, and Mrs. Maisel alone took home six awards.

Get ’em talking

“I really do believe first and foremost, today more than ever, we are competing for people’s time,” says Benson. “There is so much that a customer could be doing with their time. … You have to think about how to best engage with customers and make products and services that are not only relevant but worthy.”

His talents are not limited to New York time capsules. He also transformed a 19,000-square-foot space in Austin, Texas, into heaven and hell for Good Omens and enabled fans to play the title role of Jack Ryan in a VR experience at San Diego’s Comic-Con.

These activations not only welcome fans into the shows; they get people talking.

“The interesting thing about experiential is if you do it right, it scales with social,” notes Benson. “Social media has become this tool that allows you to reach millions of people, but if you can get the right people into the experience and get them talking about what you’re doing—that conversation can scale in a way that makes it an important part of our marketing plan.”

It also yields a little something called earned media.

“That’s the other part that becomes really important—the more earned media we can get across all our activities, the better off we are,” he says. “The trick to that is not just activations that are different from a creative perspective, but you have to think organically about how does the activity you’re creating feel like it could truly fit into the show you’re marketing?”

Big swings

These promotional events were widely covered and generated millions of social impressions, but Benson declined to provide specific figures. He did, however, say large-scale activations like these don’t come without challenges—particularly when it’s something like the Jack Ryan VR experience, which was not only a first for Amazon but the vendors it works with. Benson says working for Amazon allowed him to take big swings and pursue “big ideas some companies might not have the appetite for.”

Now, after a nearly five-year break from broadcast TV, Benson is returning to the medium as president and CMO at CBS. But whether it’s broadcast or streaming, Benson says his mission is the same.

“I never thought I approached the marketing of shows in a traditional way—Lost is a really good example of that,” he says of his prior work at ABC. “We really understood the customer and created marketing activations that drove a lot of conversation and earned media. Once we launched the show, we created activations to engage fans more deeply and got them more excited for each episode.” —Lisa Lacy

Emily Boschwitz

vp, marketing acquisition, Hims and Hers

Because taking care of yourself shouldn’t have to feel like taking your medicine
Christie Hemm Klok for Adweek

It’s safe to assume that most dudes would prefer not to look someone in the eye when discussing their erectile dysfunction. Actually, they’d probably prefer not to talk about it at all. But Hims is here for them. The telemedicine brand offers online access to an extensive network of over 200 licensed healthcare providers, resources and products for medical conditions that most guys would rather not admit to—and it does so with honesty and even humor.

By openly talking about the unpleasant issues that a striking number of men encounter, Hims has been able to “create awareness about these traditionally stigmatized conditions, normalize them and get men to be proactive about their health,” says Emily Boschwitz, vp of marketing acquisition at Hims and Hers (Hers is Hims’ sister brand).

Not afraid to be prickly

While one might expect a light touch when talking about ED, the Hims brand is memorable for imagery that includes a flaccid cactus against a millennial pink background—a visual metaphor so clear in meaning that no explanation was needed.

That irreverent approach connected powerfully with consumers. Boschwitz says the brand saw $1 million in revenue in the first week after its launch, and sales have continued to grow. Hims has also attracted over $200 million in funding to date and has fulfilled more than 1 million orders since launch.

Key to the brand’s success is showing just how common issues like ED and hair loss are. Recent advertising efforts have splashed statistics—56% of men suffer from hair loss by age 35, and 40% of men under 40 struggle with ED—in public places like subway stations and city centers that reach the brand’s wide demographic (roughly characterized as all men).

Eyes on the prize

One way to get men to connect with a message about something they’re avoiding is to capture their undivided attention—like with restroom takeovers. “We’re always thinking about where the consumer’s eyes are and where they have 30 seconds of uninterrupted time,” Boschwitz says with a chuckle. In the summer, Hims has flown banners over beaches, hoping to attract the gaze of prone sunbathers.

Boschwitz says that over the last year, her team has launched more than 50 channel tests—ranging from city takeovers (a Bryant Park subway in New York) or neighborhood dominations (like in San Francisco), always leading with stats in order to create awareness. Partnerships with influencers such as Dax Shepard and David Dobrik lend the brand authenticity and visibility. And on social, where Hims and Hers collectively have more than 200,000 followers, men have posted about unboxing products and given in-shower shampoo reviews. “It’s incredible this community we’ve been able to foster around conditions that were totally taboo two years ago,” notes Boschwitz.

A future in females

In late 2018, the company ventured into women’s health, with Hers. While the mission was similar to Hims’, the tone was different. Since its launch, Hers—where topics include birth control, female sex drug Addyi, hair-loss products, vitamins and skin care—has facilitated more than 50,000 patient/doctor interactions on the platform.

“We knew that women were already seeking care, but they weren’t getting what they need,” says Boschwitz. “We took a more direct and informational tone with Hers that allowed us to create trust with our consumers that they can come to us for a more beneficial experience.” —Rae Ann Fera

Tony Weisman

CMO, Dunkin’

The man who dropped the 'Donuts'
Tony Luong for Adweek

When Digitas veteran Tony Weisman landed the job of CMO of Dunkin’ Donuts in 2017, he inherited responsibility for the look, feel and personality of a 67-year-old doughnut chain. The only problem was, well, that “Donuts” thing.

Granted, the storied brand had no shortage of devoted fans. It had also broadened its menu over the years. But the fact that half of its name signified a high-fat sugary treat—this in an era of yoga and low-carb diets—mired the brand in the past. Weisman’s response was both ambitious and decisive: Rebrand the chain as Dunkin’, update the marketing and transform the culture of the back office. It was a multipronged effort that has since raised revenue by nearly 6%.

The brand of tomorrow

Dunkin’ had sported “Donuts” in its name since founder William Rosenberg first put it there in 1950. And while there had long been talk about shortening the name to just Dunkin’, it never happened—until last fall, one year into Weisman’s tenure.

Though the move involved risk, Weisman understood that consumers had already shortened the name on their own—something they’d been encouraged to do with 2006’s “America Runs on Dunkin’” campaign. What’s more, to the CMO’s thinking, it was essential to keep the brand in step with evolving tastes: Not only are more Americans avoiding sugar, but they’ve also gotten sophisticated about coffee.

“We are consciously pivoting the brand for the next 70 years,” explains Weisman, who recently left the company. “It felt like an inflection point—not about the brand of yesterday but the brand of tomorrow.”

Weisman also thought that Dunkin’ should look like the brand of tomorrow, so he made the new name part of a larger brand refresh that included new packaging, a new logo and an updated store design.

Fresh-brewed messaging

One of the longstanding challenges for the old Dunkin’ was drawing foot traffic after the morning rush ended—to encourage customers, as Weisman puts it, to see Dunkin’ as “a coffee shop that happens to serve doughnuts.”

After investing $100 million in new espresso equipment and training employees on the finer points of lattes, Weisman and his team served up the marketing to match. The resulting campaign, “Sipping Is Believing,” targeted “on-the-go millennials” with influencer-led social-media outreach, latte artist Michael Breach making in-store appearances and a TV campaign that touted $2 lattes and cappuccinos between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. “The insight was: To try us is to believe us,” Weisman says. “Our drinks were every bit as good as the ones you were used to. Who knew?”

These efforts led to a 30% increase in sales of espresso-based drinks, which are now 10% of Dunkin’s overall sales mix.

The culture of coffee

Before becoming CMO at Dunkin’, Weisman was Digitas’ North American CEO and amassed three decades of marketing experience at shops like Draft Worldwide and Leo Burnett. As such, he crossed to the corporate side not only with an understanding of agency life, but also with a determination to improve Dunkin’s approach to its partnerships.

Key to this was the “Kitchen Table” agency model, which Weisman adopted after learning about it from colleague Dana Anderson, CMO at MediaLink. “It’s a high-level meeting of people who run those agencies and the client—and the client controls the table and provides safety for everyone there,” Anderson explains. “And he [did] it,” Anderson adds of Weisman. “He loves a good idea.” —Robert Klara

David Rubin

CMO, The New York Times

The truth teller
Justin Bettman for Adweek

These are challenging times for publishers. Competition for ad dollars is fiercer than ever, the term “fake news” has become part of everyday conversation and the president of the United States continues to criticize leading newspapers, like The New York Times, on a near-daily basis. In response, David Rubin, the Times’ CMO, has countered with a widespread series of marketing campaigns underscoring the importance of quality journalism and highlighting the cost that its own reporters pay to tell those stories. Not only have these campaigns—which all carry the rubric “The Truth Is …”—increased brand awareness, but the Times’ subscriptions have now reached 4.7 million and the publisher predicts 10 million total subscriptions by 2025.

Just the facts

When Rubin, who joined the Times in February 2016, launched the “Truth” series in 2017, it was the publisher’s first big brand-marketing campaign. Created via a partnership with agency Droga5 and debuting on the Oscars telecast, “The Truth Is Hard” spotlighted the incredible effort that goes into producing serious journalism.

That campaign evolved the following year at the Golden Globes, with a spot called “The Truth Has a Voice,” which acknowledged the #MeToo movement with a series of words that printed “he said,” followed by “she said.” The most recent spots in the series, “The Truth Is Worth It,” were first released in October 2018 and went even deeper, giving a behind-the-scenes look at the Times’ journalistic process—showing reporters at the front lines of combat, locked in phone battles with sources or holed up with pages and pages of paperwork as they researched a big story. “That work is really hard, and it looks obvious at the end of it that it’s going to lead to something. It’s not so obvious in the moment,” notes Rubin.

What winning looks like

To bring the latest campaign to life, Rubin and his team worked with Droga5 to include dynamic visuals and audio, giving viewers a firsthand look at what it’s like to be a Times reporter. “It’s meant to be a celebration of the journalism and the message that we think the type of reporting we’re doing is important and worth paying for,” says Rubin. “The Truth Is Worth It” attracted 1.1 million views so far across TV, streaming services and online with a tease in print, and Droga5 took home the Grand Prix in the Film Craft category at the Cannes Lions this year.

“What we’re marketing is our journalism and our journalistic story,” says Rubin. “Everything is about that—what sets our journalism apart and why it’s worth paying for.” —Sara Jerde

Dean Evans

CMO, Hyundai

Steering the carmaker to new milestones
José Mandojana for Adweek

For lots of people, car shopping offers none of the fun or convenience of buying something online. It consumes a lot of time, patience and energy to research a reliable dealership, test drive different models and tackle the ample paperwork that a purchase of this size requires. These are the so-called pain points Dean Evans, CMO at Hyundai Motor America since 2015, set out to alleviate. (Evans left the carmaker in mid-October.)

A smoother ride

“Car buying takes five-and-a-half hours, and consumers think that’s brutal,” says Evans, keenly aware of how Amazon has reshaped what the public has come to expect from the retail experience. So he led the development of Hyundai’s Shopper Assurance program, a four-pronged groundbreaking initiative that launched in early 2018. Not only would it make car buying easier, but also its very existence as a product would improve Hyundai’s reputation in the eyes of would-be shoppers. “We’re the only brand today that says anything about a shopping experience,” says Evans. “Everyone else says, ‘Go see our local dealer.’ By just saying, ‘Do you like our car? Do you like our incentives?’ it gets the customer in a better mindset.”

Changing lanes

Before launching the program, Evans and his team approached the company’s 830 nationwide dealers to gauge their interest. They explained that it would have four elements, among them a three-day return and exchange period and transparent pricing. It would feature a streamlined purchase experience that would enable shoppers to fill out paperwork online on their own time, and take an industry-disrupting approach to test drives. Shoppers would no longer need to go to a lot to try out a car; instead, they could schedule them via an app and then the dealership would deliver the car wherever the prospective owner wanted—home, for instance, or the office. To market the program, Hyundai created a TV spot starring actor Jason Bateman that debuted during last year’s Super Bowl, and that showcased the Palisade, a high-end SUV that will be available later this fall. “Dealers wanted SUV action, and we wanted a humorous, relatable ad that would get people talking,” Evans says. “Rolling the spot out with those elements was a good way to make an announcement about a new premium sales process and a new premium SUV.”

Pedal to the metal

With 700 Hyundai dealers taking part, the Shopper Assurance program has already yielded returns in the form of “hundreds of thousands of transactions,” says Evans, and cultivated dealers who are focused on bettering the customer experience. He points out that 75% of average shoppers report their last retail experience was not enjoyable. But “we’re getting 75% of people saying it was the best experience they’ve ever had,” he says. “We’re moving the needle ginormously. Net net, we just changed what was three quarters hate to three quarters loved.” —Sara Ivry

Stephanie McMahon

Chief brand officer, WWE

Grappling with gender stereotypes, and winning
Winnie Au for Adweek

In 2015, for three straight days in February, the hashtag #GiveDivasAChance started trending on Twitter. Fans of Worldwide Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) had taken to social media to ask the brand to showcase more of the company’s female stars. Vince McMahon, CEO and chairman of WWE, tweeted in response, “We hear you. Keep watching.” While it was he who responded, Stephanie McMahon, WWE’s chief brand officer, was the one leading the charge to bring in more female superstars—and more fans in the process.

Welcoming superstars into the ring

McMahon’s many initiatives in the face-off against gender stereotypes range from placing WWE stars in popular programs like Drop the Mic and Carpool Karaoke to more than doubling the amount of female wrestlers, from 28 to 70, between 2015 and 2019. In doing so, she’s expanding the WWE network’s reach while widening its audience. “There’s no reason why in the longer term, 30 years from now, we can’t be as big or even bigger than Disney someday,” says McMahon.

The public’s response to #GiveDivasAChance spurred WWE to institute several major changes. Female wrestlers were no longer “divas”—they were “superstars.” The brand started training and recruiting women in the same manner as they did men. WWE hired three female coaches and its first female referee, as well as created shows on the E! and USA networks, including Total Divas and Miz & Mrs. Fans have been thrilled. At the WWE’s first-ever women’s match in Abu Dhabi in 2017, the audience chanted “This is hope.” A year later, on Oct. 28, 2018, the WWE held Evolution, the brand’s first women-only event on pay-per-view. The event trended worldwide on the same night as the last half of the World Series and during Sunday Night Football.  On April 7, 2019, the WWE made a women’s match the main stage focus of the brand’s annual Wrestlemania event. Says McMahon, “If something is worth doing, then it is worth fighting for.”

Wrestling—it’s what’s for dinner

In addition to making women front and center—and recruiting athletes like Ronda Rousey, a former UFC champion, and superstars Kavita Devi from India and Shadia Bseiso from Jordan—McMahon’s trying to bring WWE more into the mainstream. The brand is releasing five documentaries on A&E; the TV show Fight Like a Girl on Quibi; and a TV show and a movie on Netflix. And this past September, WWE began broadcasting seven hours of new cable programming—ensuring that for 52 weeks a year, there would be new episodes of its shows, no reruns.

Under McMahon, the WWE team is also performing well on social and other digital channels. In 2018, 5.8 billion hours of WWE content was consumed across all platforms, and its programming is available in 180 countries in 28 different languages. Among the WWE’s own account and those of individual superstars, the WWE boasts more than a billion fans.

“We are the most watched sports programs outside of the NFL,” says McMahon. —Ann-Marie Alcántara

Deirdre Findlay

CMO, Stitch Fix

Making fashion truly accessible
Christie Hemm Klok for Adweek

Clothes call

Stitch Fix broke entirely new ground when it launched in 2011, marrying personal style curation with ecommerce and introducing a revolutionary concept in apparel that resonated with shoppers and attracted competitors. The next challenge: how to stay ahead of the competition. Enter Findlay, who joined Stitch Fix as CMO in June 2018, roughly a year after the company went public. She was drawn to its “commitment to seeing, listening to and valuing people from all different backgrounds, and with different perspectives,” she says. By October, she had enlisted an outside agency to execute a campaign that would launch in February of this year in concert with the Oscars, where fashion and elan are center stage.

Letting customers bask in the limelight

The marketing campaign, which cost $16 million, would reiterate themes Stitch Fix communicates daily—that everyone is unique, with their own tastes and needs, and that the company’s stylists listen to and respect their customers. “We leaned into messages of inclusivity and personalization, which have been core to the brand since day one,” says Findlay. Foremost was the imperative to create and maintain an emotional connection with Stitch Fix clients. Findlay’s team reimagined how to best combine traditional media and experiential content, ultimately landing on the Stitch Fix Red Carpet. Real shoppers would be feted like movie stars. Stitch Fix hired “paparazzi” and arranged a press pit with representation from eight media companies, including BuzzFeed, NowThis and Refinery29, to interview participants. On Oscars night, Stitch Fix launched a 60-second spot that likewise promoted the idea that “Everybody Deserves to Be Seen” and feel confident at all times—whether on a job interview, on a date or in the privacy of their own home. This fully integrated campaign included a social media component as well; clients posted photos of themselves on Instagram tagged with #stitchfixmoment, to further “celebrate the everyday moments of their lives,” says Findlay. “We wanted to make the campaign personal and approachable to everyone.”

Hitting the mark

“What we’re internally calling Brand 1.0 drove over 900 million impressions,” Findlay says. Meanwhile, company growth continues apace. Stitch Fix ended its most recent quarter with 3.1 million active customers, an increase of nearly 17% over the same period last year, and with net revenue of $408.9 million, a 29.1% increase compared to last year. But for Findlay, it’s not just about the numbers. “We were seeking an opportunity that was reflective of our clients’ unboxing experiences,” she says, alluding to the process of receiving and opening a Stitch Fix package. It’s a process that includes “confidence, discovery and delight, and we feel that we hit that mark.” —Sara Ivry

Jennifer Breithaupt

global consumer CMO, Citi

Banking on the power of connection
Justin Bettman for Adweek

When Breithaupt became global consumer chief marketing officer of Citi in 2017, she was given an unusual mission: to bring more emotion to a 207-year-old financial services brand that wasn’t exactly dripping with the feels.

First, she addressed the tone of Citi’s advertising. “If you look at our work pre-2017—and I will admit I was responsible for some of it—we focused on our products and services. We would talk and talk and talk and talk,” says Breithaupt. Under her direction, Citi stopped talking at customers and instead put them at the center of its branding. This shift came with a new tagline, “Welcome what’s next,” which signaled all the life moments a customer turns to their bank for, from buying a home to sending a kid to college.

A new tune

Then Breithaupt dialed it up by leveraging Citi’s longstanding connection to music. The brand launched Citi Entertainment a decade ago, which provides customers with presale tickets, exclusive access and other offers related to movies, music, TV and sports. The Citi Sound Vault Series, meanwhile, has since 2017 provided cardholders with premium access to intimate performances with A-list artists. Having witnessed the impact of #SeeHer, the Association of National Advertisers’ initiative to eliminate unconscious bias against women and girls in advertising and media, Breithaupt realized similar progress could be made in the music industry—and in the process, strike an emotional chord.

“It’s just staggering how few women there are in music,” says Breithaupt. “You talk to artists that are female and they’ll tell you it was a struggle, how they had to hustle harder. If we can make it just a little easier on women coming up through the industry, that’s a strong message.”

On International Women’s Day this year, Citi announced on The Today Show that it would lead #SeeHerHearHear (an extension of the ANA’s #SeeHer initiative), which aims to bring gender parity and exposure to the music industry, as well as to music in advertising. The program includes a mentorship component and $5,000 awards for aspiring singer-songwriters. Additionally, Citi has committed to forming a collective of over 50 brands that will showcase music made by women in their advertising, whether it’s by a female performer, songwriter, producer, engineer or marketing executive.

“Our consumers are demanding that brands stand for something. You have to select platforms and positions where your brand can have an authentic position and voice. It has to be something that’s a core mission or commitment across your entire organization that you prioritize,” she says.

A movement, not a moment

This focus on empowering women in music has dovetailed back to Citi’s Sound Vault Series. To commemorate the 25th installment, the brand in August announced Madonna would perform two shows.

“Madonna has been able to reinvent herself over time,” Breithaupt says of the decision to feature the iconic artist. “It’s incredible the career she’s been able to make possible for herself. So when we were thinking about how important #SeeHerHearHear is this year and how to mark our 25th Sound Vault show, Madonna was the obvious choice.”

While getting Madonna involved was great headlines, Breithaupt says Citi’s commitment to women in music is far from a stunt. “We want to show that we’re making a difference, making change and showing women and girls what’s possible,” she says. “It’s not a moment; it’s a movement.” —Rae Ann Fera

This story first appeared in the Nov. 4, 2019, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.

Publish date: November 3, 2019 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT