Julie Cordua On The Spot

Faith in the power of communication is one reason why Julia Cordua joined (Red), the licensing organization created by Bono and Bobby Shriver based on the premise that global marketing can help people with AIDS in Africa. The 30-year-old, who joined the Los Angeles-based company six months ago as vp, marketing, says the work they do has only cemented her convictions. Before joining (Red), Cordua was director of buzz marketing for Helio and spent five years at Motorola, where she led the global category marketing group and helped launch the Razr.Q: How did you start working with (Red)?

A: I met the team through an old contact at Motorola who told me there was an amazing organization starting in [L.A.]. I thought it sounded really inspiring. And I thought the work that had been done so far [it was launched in the U.K.] was really smart, and that the way it was structured and the companies they had behind it were very impressive. It was something I wanted to be a part of.

What’s the business model?

It’s a licensing organization. We license the (Red) brand and portions of the profits go to the Global Fund [a leading funder of programs to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria]. We’re looking to maximize the brand on a sustainable, long-term basis. To do that we need to work with partners who are global. Each partner is category exclusive, able to pay the licensing fee, and financially [be able] to roll out the (Red) product internationally. It clearly will evolve over time. … [The commitment] is five years or more.

How do you create a distinct brand when you have so many other brand identities intertwined with it?

We are trying to create our own identity, trying to develop our personality. We’re working with five or six powerhouse brands to do that. So how do you bring all of that together? It’s the sum of its parts.

Why brand the cause with a color? And what is the significance of the parenthesis in the brand name?

The idea of using red came from it being the color for emergency, and the idea that what is happening in Africa right now is an emergency. [The logo comes from] the idea of an embrace. The thinking behind this is that the brands become part of the brand family when they create the product.

Why aren’t more of the products made in Africa?

Some are made in Africa—part of the Gap line is. There are some commercial issues in doing business in Africa. Bobby Shriver, through DATA, an aid and trade lobbying organization, is working on economic opportunities and trade issues that currently affect the ability of U.S. companies to do business there.

The first ads were for a sexy, star-studded Gap series, and the brand in general uses celebrities to promote it. How do you respond to critics who feel (Red) is merely the cause of the moment?

Celebrity involvement is an asset, but (Red) is invented to live for a very long time. It’s not designed to be a promotional thing. The campaign that Modernista did [people reciting the (Red) manifesto] doesn’t use a lot of celebrities. That was purposeful. The celebrity power certainly helps and we’re very thankful for those who come on board. They definitely keep this issue in the spotlight. [But (Red)] needs to be embraced by consumers. These are the people who become the movement in and of itself. … As far as being glitzy, we want to get consumers engaged. We’re building a consumer brand. It’s about giving them sexy products. That’s not something to shy away from.

(Red) got some initial heat for the products’ pricing structure, with some people saying not enough money was being given to the fund.

It’s about business here. That’s why we don’t call it a charity.

What are the new initiatives this year?

Continuing to build awareness about (Red) as an initiative and a concept so when people see the red mark and see our partners they understand what that means. Second will be expanding our set of partners. We’ll be adding a few new ones, not many, but very purposeful ones, giving the (Red) community members an opportunity to buy (Red) everyday.

So will we see (Red) products in the grocery aisles?

I can’t get into details about our partners. The most I can say is that within this year you’ll see us announce two or three new partners.

What does your market research tell you about the way consumers view the brand?

We got our first wave of brand tracking back at the end of January. We were really happy with the initial results. One thing we learned is that in the general population, one in five is aware of (Red) and knows what it stands for. [That was after] 12 weeks in the market, and that’s pretty impressive for an initial shot out there. But with the core consumer, the person who is defined by a psychographic profile—likes to shop, considers themselves consumers of the world—we actually had significantly higher awareness and greater appreciation for the concept and knowledge of our partners. We feel we’re on the right track.

Did the initiative to be in people’s lives everyday come from that research?

It was a bit anecdotal. We have over 600,000 friends on our MySpace page, we have a blog, a Flickr page. … In the months after the launch, people were writing, “I got the T-shirt, got the watch, got the sunglasses, what do I do now?”

The brand’s most recent ad push was centered around Valentine’s Day. It seems the media plan in general has focused on holidays. How will this evolve?

That’s part of the beauty of bringing all these different brands, different industries together. Their emphasis on marketing sometimes comes [clustered], sometimes is disparate, but together they create a message throughout the year. Between all the brands and (Red) itself you’ll have a fairly consistent voice out there. So right now you’ve seen the Gap work, the Sprint/Motorola campaign around the (Red) phone. … (Red) is really a storytelling platform. Our partners will advertise during certain key times of the year and (Red) can fill in the storytelling throughout the year.

How will (Red)’s advertising evolve?

What’s really important for us is to make sure that in our storytelling we are letting those consumers know what impact their purchases have. That’s a lot of what you’ll see this year.

Will you tell consumers more about the money being raised?

We’ll be discussing the money that has been raised, but more about the impact the money has had on the ground in Africa. In the first nine months of the program—we’re still getting our final numbers in—(Red) raised over $20 million for the Global Fund. What that translates into is over 150,000 people were put on ARV [antiretroviral] treatment for a year. That’s the two-pill treatment that people can take to stay alive. It costs 40 cents a day. It’s mind-boggling how inexpensive that medicine is, but in Africa where you only make $1 a day, 40 cents a day is still incredibly expensive. If we can raise the money to put these people on the medication to keep them alive to take care of their children so there aren’t hundreds of thousands of orphans, that’s a beautiful thing. The other thing is that it costs 12 cents to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child. What we’ll be talking about this year is the people who are able to stay alive, all of the mothers able to prevent their children from contracting the disease. We’ll be telling these stories to the American public so they can say, “Wow, I made an amazing difference.” It doesn’t take much: Go buy the $1 pen at the Gap and a baby can be born healthy. That’s a very quick equivalent and telling that story will be very important for us this year.

What is it like working with giant personalities like Bono and Bobby Shriver?

Personally, it’s amazing. Somebody may say big personalities, I say big ideas. They are out to really make an incredible difference in this world. To do that you have to be able to look at situations and say, “Why can’t we do this?” and then go and do it. They’ve built a great team all over the world. We just launched in Malaysia and Singapore, and they have people on the ground to rally behind it and make it successful.

What’s the smartest business decision you’ve made?

Not so easy to pick out. Not because I think there have been many, but because good results from decisions are often in the execution of them and less in the moment of deciding.

How about the dumbest decision?

There have been many bad decisions, but each has been a part of the experience. I’m sure there are many more to come, too, but that’s when I think you often learn the most.

What inspired you to get into marketing?

I’ve been very lucky in my career, which is becoming more purposeful as I grow. I have a chance to work on things that I really believe in. When you touch something and you believe in it, you want the rest of the world to believe in it. And the way you do that is through marketing.

Who’s had the greatest influence on your career?

Geoffrey Frost [the late Motorola CMO]. He’s one of those people who would walk into a room and you’d listen. The beauty of him was he also wanted to talk to you. The thing that inspired me about some of his creative was he wasn’t creative for creativity’s sake, but because he had a purpose. … He helped spark a new energy at the company, not only through the advertising but how we talked and how we created our products. The creativity strung through the whole company.

What was the greatest lesson you learned from him?

I don’t know if I’ve cracked it yet, but it’s to challenge yourself to have those big ideas and to believe that they’re possible.

What work are you most proud of?

What I’ve had a chance to do at (Red) is really great. … I feel incredibly lucky, incredibly blessed and proud to be a part of it.

Name the last ad that made you wish you had been a part of.

Target does interesting creative. … It’s done a really great job of taking that creative and having it pay off in the stores through interesting things they are doing outside of the stores with pop-up shops and some of their import designers. It’s incredibly difficult as a mass brand to tie that all together. I’m very impressed and I think it would be a very interesting time to be a part of it.

What advice would you give someone starting out in this business?

Work incredibly hard, be the first one in and the last one to leave, talk to a lot of people, ask a lot of questions, read everything you can get your hands on and don’t be afraid to share your ideas. It’s also incredibly important to get a group of people around you that you feel comfortable with, that you trust, at all levels. They need to know what your ideas are and you need to feel comfortable sharing. Sharing is how you’ll refine your thinking and grow, and how people will recognize your talent.

What three words would you use to describe yourself?

I am curious.

How would others describe you?

Someone described me as serious, but I don’t think I’m very serious. When I’m passionate about something, I’m very passionate about it. People would describe me as trustworthy. I value personal relationships both in business and outside of it.

What’s on your nightstand?

I’m reading The Epidemic: A Global History of AIDS by Jonathan Engel. I thought working for (Red) I needed not only to understand where AIDS is currently, but how it came to be where it is. It’s obviously specific to what I do, but given what a state of emergency we are in globally, I think it would be an interesting read for almost anyone.

What’s the last thing you did for fun?

My life is fun. I have a job I thoroughly enjoy, and I live near the beach and I absolutely love to go there whether I’m running, building sand castles with my nieces or hanging out with friends and playing volleyball. I clean very well, but there manages to be sand all over my house.