Influencers on Inclusion:  LL Cool J and WHOSAY Deliver Best Practices

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When you say you’re in influencer marketing, it’s good to have celebrity power to back you up.  That’s exactly what WHOSAY Chief Marketing Officer Paul Kontonis brought with him to October’s brand marketer confab, ANA’s Masters of Marketing.  Hip hop artist turned TV-star and author LL Cool J was on hand to turn the tables and do the interviewing of a dozen bold-faced names of the marketing industry, including Chief Marketing Officers Alicia Hatch of Deloitte and Eric Reynolds of Clorox Company and Chief Brand Officer Marc Pritchard of Procter and Gamble.

The ANA’s recent launch of its Center for Brand Purpose along with an oft-repeated reference at the conference -- a coalition of #BrandsForGood -- provided an appropriate opportunity for the Viacom-owned company to show both their influencer and inclusion chops.  The influencer/star asked each brand chief to discuss how they are advancing diversity within their organizations and using inclusion to drive growth.  As LL Cool J said to Pritchard of P&G, the largest U.S. advertiser, “You’re impacting the collective zeitgeist of the country.”  With lights, cameras and action centered on the high impact WHOSAY studio at the conference capturing videos of each interview, now distributed by the ANA, it was clear this is a company that has played in the influencer space before.

It was also clear that the stunt wasn't just a celebrity interviewing some people; it was “a person who is extremely interested in the topic, who came there to learn from the CMOs and came away understanding inclusion is not a simple thing to do and there's no one way to approach it,” explained Kontonis.  The very aspect of LL Cool J’s interest in D&I is a big ingredient in not only why he was invited as the influencer for this event, but representative of a key ingredient in influencer marketing in general: matching a celebrity’s authentic interest and brand with the advertiser values and messaging strategy. 

LL Cool J was also a good fit to represent Viacom, not only as a star in a Paramount network show, but as somebody who's been a role model and, apropos the business conference and brand executives, is currently enrolled in an executive MBA program at Harvard.

To further align itself with evangelizing inclusion, Viacom has made the videos available for ANA members and the marketing industry “because it is highly educational, and what all these major brands are doing is inspirational in many regards”, explained Kontonis.

WHOSAY, which was acquired in January this year, is part of Viacom Ad Solutions, adding to Viacom’s intention to be a solutions-centric partner for advertisers and marketers and offer next-generation platforms and innovations beyond just advertising. Kontonis is eager to have influencer marketing along with experiential and shopper marketing as more offerings to help brands leverage Viacom programming.  Along with WHOSAY in Viacom Ad Solutions are Vantage, which is advanced advertising; Velocity, which is the creative group; Vidcon, that supports with experiential, and AwesomenessTV, which is part of the branded programming offer.  Each supports Viacom’s ability to offer more strengthened capabilities to clients that effectively reaches and engages consumers wherever they are.

In the 10 months since the acquisition, WHOSAY can already point to solid accomplishments with the Viacom Ad Solutions group.  For example, a Google Pixel 2 campaign brought in Viacom talent, RuPaul.  “It started off as an influencer campaign that then ran on TV,” noted Kontonis.  “So, it's something where we show that we can leverage the talent, the inventory of Viacom, the audience and the reach of Viacom all to expand the influencer marketing offers.”

Best practices for an influencer campaign, Kontonis advised, are to “start with creativity. Talent cannot take a bad idea and make it good.  You need to start with the right idea, the right creative strategy that can then be executed with the right talent, collaborating with talent to create creative assets that you need to then run in targeted distribution.”

Targeted is also the operative word.  “Organic reach is very limited on many of the platforms,” Kontonis added.  “So, the mindset has to change from looking at how many people influencers reach to, ‘Wow, look what they can do with our brand creatively. Look at this great piece of content they're going to make that we could run anywhere we want -- within their social handles, within third-party publishers and go to TV as well and target the right audience.’”

Kontonis circled back to inclusion.  “It’s key to making diversity succeed,” he said.  “You have to have an inclusive mindset.  It's okay to say that there are people with different thoughts and experiences in different networks and different knowledge and different backgrounds; if you're inclusive, you're able to help them all feel welcomed within the same place.  So that's the way we are thinking about it from within our organization, but also within the larger picture of the content we put out there.”

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