‘I believe in marathons, not sprints for social change’: How Jess Weiner is changing brands like Barbie, Dove and more from the inside

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Jess Weiner is described as passionate, yet practical by her peers. She has a knack for spotting cultural trends and translating them into something brands can leverage to create meaningful campaigns while making a profit.

Throughout her nearly 30-year career, global brands like Barbie and Dove have looked to the 48-year-old Californian to help them tap into culture as shoppers grow more persistent about the brand’s purpose. brand and more unfavorable to advertising.

Weiner’s official title is cultural expert and CEO of Talk to Jess, a consultancy specializing in helping brands become more inclusive and culturally fluid. She is also a speaker, podcast host and best-selling author who has worked with clients like Aerie by American Eagle, Warner Bros. and real estate company Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield since the early 2000s. In her role, she spends a lot of time making connections and building community relationships on behalf of businesses.

“She’s so clearly on the path to what she has a passion for, understands and believes in. She demonstrates it and it excites people,” said Nathan Baynard, vice president of worldwide Barbie brand and portfolio marketing. dolls at Mattel. Baynard and Weiner first crossed paths when Mattel tapped Weiner to help launch a diverse new line of Barbie dolls in 2016 to better compete in a crowded toy market and boost lagging sales. .

What makes Weiner good at what she does and stands out from other brand consultants, she said, is her ability to tap into culture, understand underrepresented communities and translate that. for senior executives looking to stay relevant in an ever-changing world, Baynard added. He recalled Weiner’s work with Barbie, where she led an advisory board, facilitating a direct line of communication between consumers and the brand to help direct the toymaker’s marketing and advertising efforts.

“A few years ago we were off and Jess was really one of the main things that got us back to where we needed to be,” Baynard said. This had an impact on the brand as sales are said to have increased by 16% compared to the same period last year, according to USA Today.

Mattel has been a Weiner customer for years. But beyond Barbie, the cultural expert has worked with the global brand to launch its first line of gender-neutral dolls. She’s also worked with Disney to guide the brand in its rollout of new princesses in a time of female empowerment, and with the White House on an initiative to get more girls into STEM careers. In 2016, Weiner linked the nonpartisan nonprofit She Should Run, which encourages women to consider running for public office, where she sits on the board, with Mattel to produce the new president and vice -President Barbie Dolls.

“She uses her deep network of connections to have conversations that probably wouldn’t otherwise happen if she wasn’t in the room, if she weren’t pitching the idea,” said the Founder and CEO of She Should Run. , Erin Loos Cutraro.

Weiner says that as a white woman and independent business owner, she recognizes her privilege and uses it to not only have those difficult conversations with brands and marketers to push for change in their own businesses, but to create avenues for marginalized communities to have a voice.

“I’m aware of these, but I give them away and handle them with a lot of thought around longevity,” she said. “I can come in and articulate things more directly without some of the consequences that my colleagues would have.”

Over the past two years, in light of the social justice movement of 2020 and following the refocusing of marketers on diversity, equity and inclusion, her role as cultural expert and brand consultant has become increasingly important for brands and businesses. Many have released DE&I initiatives, pledges and corporate diversity stats at a time when buyers expect brands to take a stand on issues such as civil rights, gender inclusion gender and climate change.

The changes have taken Weiner’s work from working primarily on inclusivity in brand campaigns to inclusivity across a company’s entire business structure. Currently, four of her 10 clients are building social impact projects “as a way to get into solving the problem,” she said.

2020 was a moment in a larger movement, said Stacey Ferguson, who worked with Weiner as a consultant for Dove. Weiner has worked with Dove and Unilever as a cultural strategist for more than 15 years, beginning with the campaign for ‘Real Beauty’ to crafting the Crown Act.

“As black people of color, we have been doing this for decades. It’s nothing new,” said Ferguson, who now serves as senior director of marketing and communications at investment firm Genius Guild. “But Jess is one of those people who understands. It is really important to note that she is sincere in her efforts and her work.

According to Weiner, brands have been reactive rather than proactive in response to diversity and inclusiveness. His biggest concern right now is making sure the company’s response to the brand’s purpose doesn’t go from skepticism to apathy due to empty brand promises.

It’s doable, but it won’t happen without wins and losses. The goal is for brands and businesses to rise to the challenge and continue to do so in the future.

“I’m at a point where a lot of the seeds I’ve sown are coming to fruition and I think the brands we work with are ready to take the next steps,” she said.

“I believe in the marathon and not the sprint for social change”

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