For Viacom, “On Brand” Means Building Community, Connecting Authentically with Fans



With help from the creators –and special guest star — behind VH1’s popular reality competition series “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Viacom Velocity gave tips on how to stay on top slay the game, while staying authentic to your brand and audience at SMWNYC.

With the mass amount of content being pushed out daily, it’s difficult to keep track of everything when it comes to social media and culture — much less build genuine community.

With help from the creators –and special guest star — behind VH1’s popular reality competition series “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” Viacom Velocity gives tips on how to stay on top slay the game while staying authentic to your brand and audience.

At Slay, Queen!: RuPaul’s Drag Race and How to Build Community, Culture & Content, hosted by Viacom Ad Solutions, Dana Wade, Viacom Velocity’s VP of Culture and Creative Insights, called it the “culture of proximity.” Young people believe in brands that participate in the larger conversation.

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A cultural and social research survey of at least 14,000 young people found that 80 percent say that being part of a fandom makes them feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Viacom’s “Culture of Proximity” study explored this cultural impact — when fans, brands, influencers, and companies all collapse into each other — when these once siloed groups work together in harmony.

One great example is looking at the success of “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” a reality show which celebrates identity, expression and breeds a colorful community like no other.

Find who you are, and do it on purpose

Authenticity is infused all over this show.

“The content landscape is so crowded. People gravitate towards authentic content and unique voices, especially when it comes to diversity and inclusion,” said Tim Palazzola, VP of original programming at MTV, VH1, Logo, and Viacom.

Special guest and “Drag Race” season 7 alum Ginger Minj–a drag queen, actor, singer, film and TV personality–talked about the importance of both brands and influencers keeping things honest and personal, especially when it comes to branding and storytelling.

“With ‘Drag Race,’ it’s global, everybody wants a piece of that cake,” says Ginger. “Don’t partner with anyone who doesn’t share the same core values… people pick up on when someone is not telling the truth, being themselves, or being passionate. To quote Dolly Parton, find out who you are, and do it on purpose.”  

Inside out approach

H.L. Ray, VP of Marketing and Business Development at Samsung, talked about the partnership with Viacom and how to successfully reach out to and inspires fans through community partnerships, allowing both entities to go forward “in an authentic way.” Engaging the fans–essentially, giving back to them–allows that relationship to build and grow.

It’s the “inside-out” approach, Ray calls it — ensuring that you have the talent that understands and represents those you want to speak to as a brand. Have your experts and advisors, brand influencers, and your community, all in one team to stay ahead of what’s in the culture and knowing what the audience is talking about. It gives brands the ability to speak to consumers’ with full authenticity.

Agreed Palazzola, shared core values is what’s key here: bringing audiences together.

“At the core of our show, its about celebrating the uniqueness of artists, those who have been pioneers for the LGBTQI+ community and its allies. It’s about celebrating the individual and the shared values that come with it.”

“1+1=3”: the secret sauce

Amy Wigler, SVP of Velocity Integrated Marketing at Viacom, shared the secret sauce brands should be using when it comes to building authentic partnerships.

She gave the example of ‘Drag Race’ viewing parties as an extension of both marketing strategy and community-building.

“The importance of an audience’s desire to watch the show in real time, using social tools as a brand, and using the drag queens’ social tools and the community they built — that’s a beautiful combo,” Wigler said. “Watching [Drag Race] together; it makes people feel like they are part of a larger community.”

In order for media/marketing brands to stay at the forefront of “the culture,” they need to be intrinsically, authentically a part of and celebrating it.

Successful marketing, when done well, makes you want to stop and want to join in, these experts say. The most successful brand approach is knowing who and what you want, says Ray, and “have teams and partners to enable them to be authentic, it will and become really beautiful.”

Honesty is policy

If you’re honest about who you are as a brand, and what you expect out of the world, the world will be equally honest with you.

The way the culture has changed in the digital space also speaks to the power of social media, to all of its endless possibilities. Creative content can further things–like drag–in ways the culture hasn’t seen before.

“Because of ‘Drag Race’ catching on, it’s taught mainstream America that drag isn’t crazy or scary — it’s a form of art and expression, something to be celebrated,” continued Ginger. “I think it is revealing some of the most creative people.”

“With drag,” finished Palazzola, “you’re seeing an entire generation of young people inspired to be themselves. That is power. That is being ahead of the culture.”

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