Janko Roettgers, Donald Robertson and Matt SeilerVariety MASSIVE Entertainment Marketing Summit, Los Angeles, USA - 22 Mar 2017

Social media has long ceased to be a disruptor in and of itself. In branding, particularly in the prestige beauty world, even the new — read: five minutes old — rules are made to be broken, and brands can reap huge rewards for taking risks.

In a panel at Variety’s Massive Entertainment Marketing Summit Wednesday at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, Donald Robertson, chief creative director at the Estée Lauder Cos. Inc., and Matt Seiler, president of creative marketing solutions at Studio71, gave straight talk about influencers and Instagram and why the West Coast rules.

“I am the [senior vice president] of creative disruption at Estée Lauder,” Robertson told the audience. “I was very comfortable in the magazine world, but I realized at one point that the entire thing was shifting to Los Angeles so I moved my entire family to L.A. because what I am finding is there is more crazy awesome stuff going on here to reach people more than ever.”

Of his much-followed personal Instagram feed, he said, “I use it as bait to attract people. Sega [the gaming company] had found out that 41 percent of their gamers for ‘Sonic the Hedgehog’ were women, and they reached out to me because they know my Instagram and they follow me. They said, ‘We have no way of reaching these women because we market to teenage boys.’ I was working with the founders of Glamglow and I thought, ‘When women are gaming, why not have them masking and gaming?’ Sega just sort of stared at me.”

Cut to Glamglow creating a blue mask that became known as the Sonic the Hedgehog mask that is now the number-one mask at Sephora. “None of this could have survived a focus group,” Robertson said. “If you look on #gamingandmasking you’ll see we are now living in this world of completely and truly crazy linkups where the weirder the idea the better.

“Just when it couldn’t be any better, my daughter said, ‘Dad you need to go on Instagram because Nina Dobrev has just blown that blue mask through the roof.’ She has like 15 million followers and she just posted and posted. I mean, I could retire at this point. All from this completely bizarre L.A.-based thing that’s happening on social media right now, and in prestige beauty.”

Robertson said the buzzwords change daily; today’s it’s microinfluencer. “One day you will be paying someone to do an endorsement because they have 20 million followers and the next day you realize that all your business is coming from this girl in Iowa who is making videos in her basement. So you have to keep your ear to the ground and be watching and listening.”

He also admonished, “You need to be on social media. You can’t hire a kid to do it for you. You have to know about it yourself because all of your instincts are going to be better than theirs.”

Seiler added, “The micros are a cheaper way to test yourselves and they have a really connected audience, but the macros have an unbelievable audience that is hard to get through to. The under 25s are living their lives with these creators.” In working with Lauder and other clients, he said he uses a combination of content creators to authentically market brands.

Not only can brands not do the same old, same old — “if your idea feels comfortable, throw it out. You need to be sick to your stomach seconds before a launch because basically the world is numb and you cannot pitch a new mask product with a lady splashing water on her face,” Robertson said. But they should launch in the most digitally savvy ways possible, i.e., through an app, not in-store.

And be subtle. “People like to dig for content; they don’t like when you put it in their face. Don’t be so obvious. Be cool; try and play hard to get,” he said, using the example of placing a Clare V bag in the background of a video of his twin boys fighting in the kitchen.

“For people who are watching content, when you see a brand there you should wonder if anyone got paid for that or you shouldn’t even notice there was an actual brand there because it just made sense it was there,” Seiler said.

And for those who still think of social media as a side note, he said, “Don’t relegate this to a social media agency within a media group. This is what you do; it’s not a tiny little division. Get it up to [chief marketing officer] or publisher level to where the real money is spent. Make it matter.”

“I got more comments on the purse than I did on the boys. It’s sort of a trick, but it’s not. It’s the way people like to discover things. It’s something the agency taught me,” said Robertson.

To wit, Robertson called out Lauder’s acquisition last year of Too Faced Cosmetics for $1.4 billion.

“This L.A. brand had been building this YouTube channel with an audience that is so devout. I’ve watched it twice in my career — when Lauder bought MAC and again today,” Robertson said. “They are not buying brands, they are buying people whose relationship with their audience is so rock solid that people want to be in that.”

So who’s the next big thing? “I think everyone should be watching Jeffree Star.”

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