Sex Dust and Naked Juice have nothing to do with the San Fernando Valley’s once-thriving porn industry. As a matter of fact, those two products, from Moon Juice and PepsiCo, are part of the groundbreaking wellness wave that began in Southern California and continues to thrive courtesy of companies like Headspace, Papa & Barkley and others on the second annual L.A. Brand Stars list.
With the explosive growth of Silicon Beach, there’s also a startup culture that’s taken its place alongside local legends like the Lakers (All hail King James!) and Taco Bell (All hail the Quesalupa!). In short order, Bird Rides and Ring doorbells have upended the ridesharing and home-security businesses, MedMen has reimagined the cannabis dispensary and Drybar has modernized (and standardized) the beauty parlor concept.
There may be something about this company town that encourages creativity and risk, where even insurance and cruise-line ads qualify as four-star entertainment. “Everyone here is used to being rejected, even if they’re not actors,” says Papa & Barkley’s CMO Kimberly Dillon. “That makes for a lot of grit and resilience.” It’s apparent in the show-stopping, innovative marketing from 16 brand executives you need to know right now.
Born as one cold-pressed juice shop in Venice in 2011 and scaled to starlet-driven cult favorite, Moon Juice didn’t have a senior marketing executive until last year. That’s when Ashmun arrived from Unilever to “demystify the sexy, esoteric brand,” she says, and take its dusts, powdered plants, tonics, snacks and super-herbs into the mainstream. Since then, the company’s adaptogen-based products, fueled by Instagram and beloved by Gwyneth Paltrow and her Goop brigade, have landed in Sephora, Nordstrom and Barneys. Ashmun this spring debuted the first supplement capsules, which sold out five times and boast a waiting list of more than 8,000 people, and the first topical products, a skin-care line made with super-mushrooms. Steeped in traditional cosmetics (with Nestlé candy also in her background), Ashmun sees Moon Juice’s mashup of beauty, wellness and functional food as the future. “The tailwinds are very strong in this category,” she says. “We want to evangelize to a broader audience and educate consumers on how to integrate these products into their daily rituals.”
It’s acceptable, though a little boring, to hawk a Ring doorbell surveillance camera with a talking head who lists its features and cost. But Cassels preferred to take snippets of suspicious characters caught on video at consumers’ homes and splice those together for a rogues’ gallery of would-be thieves and robbers. “We don’t want to show a piece of plastic that sits on your door,” he says. “We want to convey the experience and the benefits.” That was one of the first orders of business when Cassels, a veteran of the Apple account at TBWAMedia Arts Lab, arrived at the startup three years ago. He’s since worked with company founder Jamie Siminoff, a frequent brand spokesman, and Shaquille O’Neal on ads that “might not win awards at Cannes” but have helped propel Ring to unicorn status. (Amazon bought the company, whose flagship product is like caller ID for your front door, for $1 billion this spring.) The slightly rough-around-the-edges content suits a modestly priced DIY home-security line, Cassels says, that “generates narratives every day for the kind of engaging and fun testimonials you can’t buy.”
Talk about micro targeting: Naked Juice was sold from one sunbather to the next on the beaches of Santa Monica and Venice when it launched in the early ’80s. These days, Cortinas is rebranding the PepsiCo-owned premium drink line to target the broadest possible demographic, beyond the core active lifestyle (and surf) fans. The annual “Drink Good Do Good” campaign that has donated more than $3 million in fresh produce to underserved communities enlisted John Legend and Misty Copeland as ambassadors this fall. “Naked was a pioneer in the healthy movement,” he says. “We want to drive some new creative thinking to move it forward.” The same goes for KeVita kombucha, which recently gave a fermented kick to chef Roy Choi’s dishes at the Koreatown restaurant, Chego. Cortinas, a 16-year PepsiCo veteran recently transplanted from Chicago, says he’s inspired by the “startup culture” of his company’s Los Angeles-area operations, the melting pot around it and the locals’ fitness focus. “When you land at the airport, you recognize you’re in a very different part of the U.S.,” he says. “This market lives and breathes wellness.”
Sin City, as it turns out, is selective about touting its vices, and advertising cannabis on the Strip is verboten. So when MedMen’s newest location opened in Vegas recently, Dancer wrapped 150 taxis top to bottom, spreading the brand’s message from the airport to the famed hotels and beyond. It’s the latest regulatory hurdle for Dancer, whose visually striking marketing busts stoner stereotypes and positions weed as a lifestyle and wellness product. Coming up to the first holiday season where recreational marijuana is legal in a number of states, Dancer plans a themed campaign that “can’t say ‘gift,’ because legally you have to buy it for yourself,” he says, but will feature bundles and promo items that could fit nicely into a loved one’s stocking. Dancer, a Michigan native who drives his convertible from West Hollywood to the beach for volleyball and running every weekend, just launched MedMen’s first private label products and continues to build a full-service, in-house mini-agency. “We’re a traditional retailer that happens to sell cannabis,” he says, “so we’re entrenched in educating people and building awareness.”
Within the space of a few weeks this fall, Dillon had taken her CBD-based topicals and tinctures to the Wanderlust yoga festival in Palm Springs, the Levi’s GranFondo cycling race in Sonoma and a Los Angeles expo for people with disabilities, hitting the key Papa & Barkley demos of “green-juice mommies,” weekend warriors and people living with chronic health issues. “Pain is not sexy, but it is universal,” Dillon says. “I’m committed to sharing the power of the plant.” A traditional packaged-goods marketer (P&G, Clorox) and part-time stand-up comedian, Dillon also targets the aging population with educational talks at retirement communities and free bus rides to Southern California dispensaries as a way to “build trust and build a brand.” Top on her priority list is growing P&B’s digital media, mostly original content because there’s limited opportunity for paid ads, and launching ecommerce for the brand’s new hemp-based line of pain relievers. “My whole job is about normalizing cannabis,” she says. “In the face of the opioid crisis and healthcare costs, it couldn’t be more timely.”
When she said, “Bring me things that scare me,” Eichberger hadn’t meant it literally. But her challenge to agency RPA birthed some charmingly creepy commercials for life insurance starring a zombie, a vampire and a mummy. (The recent Halloween-pegged spots ended with the Farmers tagline, “We know from experience,” and a ghoulish laugh in place of the familiar jingle.) “We go for the witty, clever humor,” she says, “not slapstick.” Eichberger, whose brand gets outspent 10 to 1 in the category, latches on to pop culture and events like the Oscars (with parody movie trailers) and the Olympics (with winter sports sounds—the whoosh of a downhill skier, say—replacing the signature tune) as a way to continually refresh the long-running campaign “We Are Farmers,” with J.K. Simmons as spokescharacter Professor Burke. “I don’t want to see the same creative or status quo media plan,” says Eichberger, a Los Angeles native and triathlete who just completed a 12-day cycling trip in Portugal. “I’d rather have something that’s too big and too much that I can cull down. Even if it’s too soon to go with it, I want the big idea.”
Bypassing category tropes like water slides and endless buffets, Friedericks would rather tout Princess Cruises’ intangibles in its advertising. “Travel is transformative,” she says of this year’s “Come Back New” campaign from Omelet. “It has the power to open your mind.” Along with its existential benefits, she’s shown off the brand’s lighter side with an on-board safety video from Stun that paid homage to the classic TV show Love Boat, complete with familiar faces and original theme music. Friedericks, who admits to having a “vagabond lust” for travel, has in three years built an in-house 20-person mini-agency that creates video series with celebrity chef partners like Curtis Stone and Mary Nolan, oversees a quarterly magazine and shoots footage from Princess destinations around the world for a proprietary content library. As the company adds five ships over the next six years, Friedericks’ messages will lean into the “deep sense of wellness” that comes from sea voyages and tell consumers “exactly why they need to use their vacations.”
Knowing there was pent-up demand from Sons of Anarchy fans for its spinoff, Mayans M.C., didn’t keep Gibbons from staging a full-out marketing assault for the gritty drama’s September premiere, including an interactive takeover of the Rolling Stone homepage and an infiltration of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally that plastered the show’s message on “every gas pump, bar and convenience store that surrounded it,” she says. (Mayans debuted as the highest-rated cable series of the year, quickly scoring a second-season renewal.) Gibbons, who created the nightmare-inducing devil-spawn posters for American Horror Story and staged an elaborate ball in New York for the launch of Pose, plans to “survive and thrive” as the Disney acquisition of the network “has reset the GPS.” The media-saturated 14-year FX veteran keeps up with Peak TV everywhere from the checkout line to the doctor’s office, saying, “It’s more surreal than dripping clocks when I see my iOS weekly screen-time total.” But other than an early waitressing gig with free pancakes, “Professionally, it’s the most adrenalized I’ve ever been.”
When your CEO publicly acknowledges the company’s e-scooters are “polarizing” and cities in your own backyard ban the dockless ride-sharing service, you have your work cut out for you as the first senior communications exec at Bird Rides. Hahn, a Southern California native and former OutCast Agency partner who joined Bird this summer and oversees all marketing and communications, stays steadfastly on message, saying, “The onus is on us to amplify the positive value and impact we bring to communities, people and the environment.” Bird, launched in 2017 by Uber and Lyft vet Travis VanderZanden and already valued at $2 billion, will add more features (like delivering the 15-mph scooters directly to consumers’ homes) while it continues expanding from its Santa Monica headquarters to cities around the country (Birds have landed in Brooklyn) and internationally (Paris and Tel Aviv to start). Debuting soon on the app is Community Mode, allowing people to report bad behavior, poor parking and damaged vehicles. Because the concept is so new, “there is an expected learning curve and tension point,” says Hahn. “We’re addressing it head on with extensive marketing campaigns focused on rider education and safety.”
Long before the season’s tip-off, Harris had locked in returning sponsors like American Express, Delta and Toyota, and negotiated a new three-year commitment from mobile ecommerce player Wish (worth a reported $30 million) for the first-ever jersey patch placement. That’s on top of a nearly sold-out Staples Center and solidified alliances with media partners Spectrum SportsNet and 710 ESPNLA. And then came LeBron James, one of the reigning kings of the NBA, who joined the Lakers in July. “It was an embarrassment of riches already,” says Harris, a 19-year veteran of the franchise and former pro soccer star. “Then we went from being an up-and-coming team with this youthful core to adding one of the biggest individual sports brands in the game.” His emphasis now will be “delivering the most exciting experience” possible, but not making change “for change’s sake.” (Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” as the team’s soundtrack and velvet-voiced on-site announcer Lawrence Tanter remain.) “The attention will be intense,” Harris says, “but we’ll keep reminding ourselves that we’re here to serve the fans.”
It’s been called the Starbucks of hairdos and the modern-day equivalent of the old-school wash-and-set beauty parlor. Drybar’s service, though, is tailor made for the camera-ready social-media age, accented with free Champagne and set to a Cardi B soundtrack. Hoffmann, a veteran of fashion brands like Cole Haan, Converse and J.Crew, was already hooked on the $45 blowouts before joining the company early this year and relocating from the East Coast. “When Drybar opened in New York City, I became a huge fan and customer,” she says of the “female-founded brand that celebrates and empowers women.” Good hair, she believes, is a real confidence boost. For the fast-growing chain of 117 locations, with reported nine-figure revenue and its own branded product line sold at Sephora and Nordstrom, Hoffmann plans to bulk up its digital, social, in-store and out-of-home advertising, aiming for “deeper brand storytelling and digital reach.” She spent her first few months fortifying the internal digital, ecommerce and analytics teams, and she’s readying for one of the busiest seasons—holiday—with a new gift-card program and glitter-filled promos.
The massively popular Nacho Fries, which inspired two crowd-pleasing commercials disguised as fake movie trailers, will be back next year at Taco Bell, giving Larocca another opportunity for the kind of quirky marketing she specializes in, looking “everywhere but the category” for ideas, she says. The Southern California native, whose intended two-year stint at Taco Bell has turned into nearly two decades, will also promote vegetarian-friendly menu items in 2019 with the brand’s patented “unique sense of humor.” She may revisit the test kitchen, which gave consumers a peek into the chain’s Willy Wonka-esque creations in the making, and expand its on-site “group occasions” like promposals, weddings and birthday parties. The tone of her advertising remains consistent, she says, “bringing levity into people’s lives,” but its frat-bro sensibility of days past has evolved. “We’re the eternal 25-year-old male,” she says, “but we’ve added a level of sophistication and charm, so we’re in line with the 25-year-old male of today.”
Like some Hollywood stars of a certain age, the People’s Choice Awards got a facelift for its first airing on the E! network. Neal extended its voting across Twitter, Xfinity and Facebook, refreshed and beefed up its prize categories, overhauled the on-air look and placed the well-known E! brand in its title as a way to “reimagine and supercharge this iconic franchise for the next generation,” she says. The recent event comes on the heels of Neal’s launch of Busy Tonight, starring Busy Philipps, the cable channel’s “return to a topical comedy franchise with a modern female point of view.” Neal, a six-year E! veteran and former CMO at BBDO North America, likes to hyper-target in the Peak TV era, also believing that “all content needs to stand on its own entertainment value, including all marketing elements,” she says. “We think of marketers as the publishers of today, always engaging our audience with new and unexpected content.”
Moving from the U.K. to Los Angeles was “not in the life plan” for Pay, an advertising vet who most recently was co-CCO at Grey London. But an offer for the freshly minted CCO gig at Headspace hit her like a proverbial bolt of lightning. “When you fall in love, it’s not a choice,” she says. “It happens to you. The stars align.” At the mindfulness and meditation-centric app with 32 million members, she’ll expand the brand’s offerings and marketing into unexpected places. For the upcoming holidays, Headspace and Westfield malls will debut a stress-relieving twist on retail therapy at numerous high-traffic locations. Pay plans to tout the company’s health, sleep and lifestyle benefits (there’s a “politics pack,” for example, so current-events junkies can chill out) and extend further into corporate America (existing partners include the NBA, Nike, JetBlue, Unilever and 200-plus others). “We’re tentacling our way out there,” she says, “to any area where people need inspiration and guidance and support.”
Fresh from a $200 million cash infusion (after a scrapped IPO, previous lawsuits and product recalls), The Honest Company plans to launch its clean skin- and hair-care lines in 2,500 stores across Western Europe in spring 2019, continuing its “commitment to seeing beauty differently as well as making products mindfully,” says Pruitt, who previously was chief content officer at Carat and president of the Story Lab. She switched this fall from media and content gigs to the brand side specifically to work at the mission-driven Honest, co-founded in 2011 by actress Jessica Alba. “As a mother and a thoughtful consumer, I believe that everyone should have access to safe, healthy products that also look great and perform,” Pruitt says. Along with the global expansion, Pruitt will focus on “consumer-led storytelling and omnichannel marketing” in the U.S. for The Honest Company’s eco-friendly personal care, wellness, baby and household products. Creating programs for retail and online shopping, Pruitt says, and “designing the consumer interactions to be localized and scalable is one of those moments you dream of as a marketer.”
Like the NFL team she’s now working for, Zarate-Bayani spent time away from Los Angeles. But the Southern California native has come back “to bring brand fundamentals to a great sports franchise,” says the veteran of Hershey, Taco Bell and Visa who signed on with the Rams last fall as her first dive into the sports category. “They were specifically looking for someone outside the industry,” she says, “and someone with a digital background.” She’s rebranding the buzzworthy, potentially Super Bowl-bound Rams—everything from logos to uniforms will be redesigned—to coincide with a 300-acre new stadium complex opening in Inglewood in 2020. Having that global destination, which will include parks, live entertainment venues, shopping and living spaces—basically, “a city being built from the ground up”—will give Zarate-Bayani a high-profile platform for unveiling a Rams update and more fan-centric programs. “It’s the embodiment of so many great things that are happening in L.A.,” she says of the $5 billion project. “We want to live up to all that environment has to offer.”