John Demsey, Benny Medina, Eve Jeffries, Bernd Beetz and Stephen Stoute.

Passion is one of the most important qualities for a successful product, noted Benny Medina, a partner in Handprint Entertainment, who helped match Jennifer Lopez with Coty.

Celebrities have become beauty’s favorite marketing tool — but to sustain the momentum, said a panel of experts, it’s critical to realize that celebrities and multiculturalism coexist and are interdependent.

“Something very much is changing in the wind right now,” said John Demsey, global president of the Estée Lauder and MAC Cosmetics brands at the Estée Lauder Cos. and a co-host of a panel at the summit. “And the notion of multiculturalism and the role of celebrity has dramatically transformed our business and continues to be sort of the quake or the sound heard around the world,” he added.

It’s critical to be clear about what multiculturalism actually is, said Stephen Stoute, chief creative officer and founder of Translation Consultation and Brand Imaging, the panel’s co-host. Stoute, a music mogul turned branding guru, put together the star-studded Carol’s Daughter investment team last year and has been responsible for some of the most high-profile celebrity and consumer campaigns, including Beyoncé Knowles’ True Star fragrance deal with Tommy Hilfiger Toiletries.

“Multiculturalism is not about African-American models skinned over an existing general marketing advertisement,” said Stoute. “It’s not four women of different ethnicities posing together for a photograph as if they are friends. And because we do not have a definition that we can all adhere to as an industry of what multicultural is, we opt for ethnicity and use it as a tactical response to support a particular product. We overlook the larger opportunity of looking at not only how products support multiculturalism, but how the entire industry has been slow to embrace it.

“To be clear, multicultural is not a race or a color of someone’s skin,” continued Stoute. “It’s a landscape that houses a mind-set that young adults and teenagers share, brought on by three primary forces: proximity; the influence of MTV, music videos and entertainment, and the Internet. These combined forces have lent transparency to cultures, access to cultures. And yet we still, as an industry, want to put people in boxes…and demographics and charts and Q ratings, and it neuters us from understanding cultural impact and what affects these consumer groups. The culture of our companies suffer as a result of it.”

This story first appeared in the May 26, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Passion is one of the most important qualities for a successful product, noted Benny Medina, a partner in Handprint Entertainment, who helped match Jennifer Lopez with Coty. The resultant fragrance, Glow by JLo, did $100 million globally at retail in its first year on counter. “When we took Jennifer Lopez to [Coty chief executive] Bernd Beetz to talk about fragrance, we had not necessarily succeeded with the launch of a clothing line — which I remembered at the time [Jennifer] was not quite as passionate about,” remembered Medina. “But the fragrance was something that she had actually pretty much designed, like a song that she had always wanted to write for years. [She] knew exactly what the essence of that fragrance would be with the launch and with [Coty executive] Catherine Walsh. And ultimately, the corporate culture really embraced [her], including her in the process, and also being strong and determined enough to edit when maybe we were going down a path that wasn’t going to be commercially viable.”

The matching process between celebrity and product is perhaps the most critical factor for success — something that Medina likens to producing a movie. “You start with a bad script, it’s going to be a bad movie — it won’t get good in the editing,” he said, noting that a great product is key. “The marketing materials may trick the public initially, it may influence them, but they’re going to…probably talk 10 people out of the movie when it’s bad, when they could’ve talked 25 people into the movie when it’s really good. If I believe in your music and you exude an incredible style and taste, and I, in this case, appeal to you in terms of the aspirational need to want to look like you, to want to walk like you, to dress like you, to be able to influence you, it can translate because of that fact.” Although few consumers will ever achieve that precise style, Medina admits, “the influence the celebrity has on the consumer to make them feel better about their lives and themselves, particularly if they are proven to do something great, is really incalculable.”

It’s also crucial, once the marriage is made, to keep the celebrity involved — something not every company is willing to do, learned Eve Jeffries, the Grammy-nominated rapper and actress, who will enter the beauty world this fall as a spokesperson for MAC’s Viva Glam campaign. “I did and I do still have a clothing line,” she said. “One of my partners — I can’t say the name — I didn’t feel he wanted to be a partner. He didn’t listen to anything I said, he didn’t really want to do anything I wanted to do, he really didn’t have my back when it came to talking to the bigger companies that we were putting the clothing line into. It hasn’t made me turn my back on doing another clothing line, but it would have to be [different.] It would have to be a real partnership. Why write me a check or be a partner with me if you don’t want to listen to my point of view at all? I think you come to me because you like what I do already, so why try to change me when you wind up in a partnership? I’ve had some of my fans come up to me about my clothing line and say, ‘That doesn’t look like what you would wear.’ And it wasn’t, and I didn’t wear it. So, I was like, ‘Girl, you’re right,'” she said, to laughter from the crowd.

Coty’s Beetz — whose celebrity licenses include those of Lopez, Sarah Jessica Parker, Celine Dion, Kimora Lee Simmons, Russell Simmons and David and Victoria Beckham, to name a few — is a true believer in the star strategy. “I think in the last five, six, seven years, there was really a paradigm shift with the consumer and with the entertainment industry,” Beetz said. “The paradigm shift is, the consumer is more willing to bond with celebrities. The other one is the paradigm shift in the entertainment industry, with key people looking at beauty as a key part of becoming their brand or part of their creativity. These two changes played to our mantra, which is, we are a beauty product creator; that’s our sole purpose in life. What we have been able to do is to create a winning proposition between what the talent can bring to the brand and what we as beauty experts can bring to the party.”

Medina noted that celebrities’ increasing willingness to market consumer goods has led to quantum leaps in deals. “The fact that the artistic community, that Hollywood itself and television, film and music no longer look at it as a negative to be associated with endorsements and products, is a very huge step,” he said. “Now, [it is] a step in the direction of opportunity for artists, who have to determine how much of a connection they [will] have to the things that they want to create, the products that they want to brand and/or endorse. And at the same time, it’s a huge responsibility for you, because not everything really, truly works.”

Nor does every celebrity, opines Medina. “There are people who have sort of the cult or the status that does create the opportunity to sell something,” he said. “Not every artist or celebrity really exudes that. Back in the day when we were just starting Puffy’s clothing line, this is a guy who had, along with a host of other hip-hop artists, completely reinvented the Tommy Hilfiger company. So once the guys on MTV with rap records started wearing Hilfiger’s brand, which was at a low point at that time, sort of taking on a real mainstream, WASP-y styled effect, with their music and their culture, the brand started to reinvent itself. Then you had Fubu and Russell Simmons and Puffy and Jay-Z and a few others who were in the space at that time, saying, ‘Well, I’m tired of selling Tommy’s clothes. They’re buying this because of our music and we should be doing this ourselves.’ Well, where do you go to? First you go to Tommy, first you go to Calvin Klein, you go to all of the brands that you have been building, saying, ‘Don’t you want to bring this culture up underneath your umbrella and see if there’s an opportunity that we can do with this same aesthetic under your umbrella?’ Everybody basically said no.”

In fact, Medina said, each of these brands could have been owned by a major conglomerate. “Not in any way to embarrass anybody, but when you look at the fact that you say Phat Farm, Fubu and Sean John all could’ve been brands up underneath the Tommy Hilfiger umbrella or empire at that time, it would be a substantial business right now.”

Will these brands last forever? Maybe, maybe not. “When we started with expanding to celebrities with Jennifer Lopez, people thought it would be one, two, maybe three years [before the fragrance was out of the market],” said Beetz. “But we’re now in the fifth year and going stronger than ever. So I think there is an element in there which you get into a certain franchise — but then it’s up to you as a creator of beauty products to really make the consumer loyal. Just don’t give him a reason to leave your franchise. As a marketer, you market toward a target consumer group and you bond with the consumer group with a certain kind of product marketing. Once you’ve developed into that, I think you develop a whole new model, and you talk to that consumer and you bring innovation and you’re entertaining. [And with that approach] I’m absolutely convinced you can go a long, long time.”

While some companies have a grasp of the importance of celebrities and multiculturalism, the beauty industry has to do better, said Stoute. “Because I have a marketing consultant company, we work with the Verizons of the world, the Pepsis, the Microsofts, and you get to see how they deal with this new emerging group. And when I go back to the beauty business, I really do see Neanderthal-like adoption of how to embrace this new consumer group…as an industry, [beauty has] one of the best products that translates online, but you still have traditional thinkers saying they can’t smell it, though, so why would they buy it? That’s not true. That’s why you build a brand that’s strong, because there’s trust.”

The wave of the future? According to Medina, it’s clear. “Look for more important and profound statements being made by women of color, and not just as endorsers of products that they don’t necessarily seem properly married to, like a Latifah or even a Halle Berry — in that case, that I think are terribly misused, sorry — with the brands that they represent…after winning an Academy Award, I think that Halle Berry and all of her gorgeousness deserved to have something that was more reflective of her.”

And this is far from an isolated incident, added Stoute. “With Carol’s Daughter, we had some initial resistance with distribution,” he said. “[The line] launched in Sephora about six weeks ago and they’ve moved orders up; it’s selling through extremely, extremely well. I think the executives there are surprised. When Lisa Price, the founder of Carol’s Daughter, went to do the educating in the stores on how to sell the brand, she had an audience of salespeople that wanted to buy it first. Forget selling it to customers — [the salespeople] wanted it, because they’re there and they knew there was a need in the marketplace. That need has to be satisfied. I know we’re looking for margins and who’s going to get to China first and who’s going to really dominate duty-free. I know we’re looking and expanding and trying to find margins there and increase market share there. But while we keep going up and abroad looking for these profits, I’m saying to you right here in America there are billions of dollars just sitting on the floor, waiting for these people to be spoken to and touched in languages that they understand.”