Zambezi’s Strategy Chief Looks Back on Her First Year on the Job

Kristina Jenkins is overhauling old brands and ideas


Current gig Chief strategy officer, Zambezi

Previous gig Culture intelligence officer, mcgarrybowen

Twitter @KJxCulture

Age 42

Adweek: You spoke on a recent Advertising Week panel about Los Angeles as a creative epicenter. As a native New Yorker now transplanted to L.A., what strikes you most about your adopted hometown?

Kristina Jenkins: People in New York really take pride in the grind and the hustle and the go-go-go attitude. But there's an L.A. hustle, too. People are moving fast and pushing boundaries, but they're also having a life, and I love that intersection. It's a very optimistic place that's always been open to breaking rules. I've gotten really into wellness, fitness and outdoor activities and all the things that California makes possible.

How and why is Zambezi remaking Autotrader?

Autotrader is an iconic brand in car search—it basically invented the category—but there was no love for it or real connection to it. People love their cars, but not the brand that made the purchase possible in the first place. We looked at it like the backup singers for the Rolling Stones who made it all happen but didn't get any recognition. We wanted to create a rock star following with this new generation of car buyers. So we reframed the brand to make it more culturally relevant, which is how we approach strategy for all our clients, and asked what Autotrader did better than anyone else. It was matchmaking. So we've been communicating that point: Autotrader knows so much about you and your life that it can help direct you to a great choice.

How did that culturally relevant hook play out with the agency's work for the Venetian resort?

Luxury brands tend to say they'll transform you if you opt in. For the Venetian, we said, "You're fine the way you are." We didn't look at hotel case studies or Vegas travel marketing. We thought about where people wanted to hang out and spend time. Our platform has been: come as you are. It's a heavily visual campaign with great music, using a slight cue to the Venetian's Italian heritage. But it leaves a lot to the imagination. We want people to be able to see themselves in the marketing.

Do you think there's been too much marketing focus on millennials?

No. This is a generation that really inspired brands to think and problem solve differently. And yet the industry created all these stereotypes and misrepresentations. Millennials have given you permission to do bold, disruptive things. Take them up on it, and be transparent about it. That said, there are other generations and demographic groups to think about.

Such as?

Baby boomers, for one. They're completely redefining what it means to grow older, to be a senior, to retire. This is a sizeable population that's literally changing the way we age, and there are so many ways for brands to engage them differently. They're part of what we're referring to as the "grown-up question." What it means to be grown up has really changed: Gen Xers are redefining the midlife experience, millennials aren't buying into labels, Gen Z is coming of age in a time unlike any other. The traditional markers have gone away because people don't necessarily get married at a certain age, start having kids, buy a home. All this creates new needs based on life stages. What opportunities and innovations can brands grab onto to fill those new needs?

This story first appeared in the October 10, 2016 issue of Adweek magazine.

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