an evening @ Lancaster Uni

bravery in marketing is... beautifully diverse 01.11.17


I don't think I've been on a university campus since the 1990s, and it's a damp, misty November night when I arrive at Lancaster University, The Times & Sunday Times University of the Year 2018. It's slick: flood-lit sports courts, speed bumps and RIBA-endorsed eco-architecture. I've travelled here to discuss the Marketing Society's theme of 'Bravery' with a team of Marketing undergrads. Clever bunnies. Noticeably girls (big up to brave Alex, the only guy in the group) with aspirations to join Unilever, Coke, maybe a well paying Swiss company, or advertising.

Class of '17: Lancaster Uni marketing undergrads ready to chat 'Bravery in Marketing'

Class of '17: Lancaster Uni marketing undergrads ready to chat 'Bravery in Marketing'

I present my own case for 'Bravery' at the front of class; chat through the decline in brand trust; whether or not 'Bravery' is the right word; the steps our industry is making around gender, mental health, inclusion. And in the spirit of Open Space, have no idea what's going to come up. Our discussion ranges from everyday racism to the need, or not, for better customer service in discount grocers.

It was a fab 2-hours. And in distilling all the talking points, three themes ring out from Lancaster's brightest on their code for brand success.

The first is utility. They spark with entrepreneurial opportunities–Alex already has two start ups under his belt–and highlight achingly empty white spaces; incipient needs driven by gender, age, ethnicity, sitting waiting to be fulfilled by really useful products. Secondly come ethics. May sound old hat, but strong ethics are now table stakes, and are not to be confused with (to them, the potentially "delusional" concept of) brand purpose. Ethics are now a pillar. And finally, authenticity. The desire for no bullshit; for brands that walk the talk, meet genuine claims, and speak plainly in doing so (which is simpler when you have a really useful product).

I ask what brands, if any, are currently living up to these values and expectations? And for Lancaster, the unanimous winner is Rihanna's Fenty Beauty. The latest kid off the Beauty block. And we go on to discuss the reasons why.

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Fenty Beauty - launched in September at Harvey Nicks - is making these students buzz. Labelled 'The New Generation of Beauty' Fenty does utility in spades. In filling a clear global market gap ("of customers previously excluded from the marketing conversation"), RiRi promises that, "every woman is included" in her Beauty vision. And, in a celebration of female diversity, she has created 'Shades for all': a mesmeric range of 40+ foundation colours designed for 'traditionally hard-to-match' skin tones found the world over.

When it comes to ethics, Fenty simply and knowingly reflects Gen Z's standards. The make up discourse, as we know, has already shifted to one of female empowerment (notably No.7's 'Ready' platform for older gals), but in Rihanna's view, when it comes to her teen-plus crowd, it should be about fun, self-expression, and the freedom to experiment, with none of the shame older women may feel. The range is naturally Cruelty Free. And prices are pitched at parity alongside Mac, Benefit and Smashbox.

But where Fenty is at its most striking as a brand, for these students, is when it comes to authenticity–because this is a brand able to market itself from the very heart of a fantastic product. And here the Lancaster students discuss Dove's lack of "real" innovation over the past few years. In their view purpose cannot be shrunk to fit around artful 'Body' bottles and (now controversial) attempts at communicating diversity; it needs to be intrinsic to the product. Messaging then becomes simple truths that allow the brand to play a credible role to powerful social effect - the kind of effect reported when Krystal Robertson posted #AlbinoMatch @badgalriri.

Krystal Robertson posts to @badgalriri 

Krystal Robertson posts to @badgalriri 

Overall, what this autumnal Lancaster session sparked in me is that, in the eyes of these bright young marketers, the diversity agenda is a huge untapped source of creativity yet to be explored, and is ready to be met with ingenuous new ideas, beautifully executed. And these gals (and guy) are 'bravely' looking out for the next opportunities to jump on. For them Fenty Beauty fires up excitement, and proves that brand marketing (from core product innovation to social post) rocks. It can push the boundaries of 'true creativity'. It is brave; fresh; seamless. What's not to love?

Thank you @lancasteruni.

Show your Fenty Face @fentybeauty

Show your Fenty Face @fentybeauty

Rebecca is Chief Strategist at Salt of the Earth.