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May 01, 2015

Working Smart

Why Different Works

by Jennifer L. Mills

Click here to order the May 2015 issue in which this article appeared or click here to download it to your mobile device.

Photo: Mary Kay global makeup artist Luis Casco prepares a model for the catwalk on Project Runway during last year’s season.

Every direct selling company knows that to grow their business and reach that all-powerful distributor and customer, it takes an army, connecting through relationships and word of mouth. Companies know this because it works. Yes, some companies do infomercials or 30-second spots sporadically on television, but the driving force is this army of your best customers telling their friends and family about their experience with your products. How do you reach them? Well, there’s a new strategy emerging in the advertising space blurring the distinction between advertising and entertainment—entertainment marketing. And Mary Kay is making it work.

In fall 2012 the company held a live Twitter party, hosted by a makeup artist and fashion stylist, to help promote its current makeover contest. Consumers became so engaged with the beauty and fashion content, that the conversation surged and started trending nationally on Twitter. That gave Mary Kay an idea. Rethinking the next year’s marketing strategy, the company really wanted to be more beauty and fashion focused in order to keep that engagement going, according to Kim Sater, Director, U.S. Consumer Marketing.

“So we asked Tamara Phillips [President and Media Director of T2 Media] to look into things we could invest in that would allow us to highlight Mary Kay in that fashion environment and connect Mary Kay with trend and with fashion to position us as a fashion-forward brand,” Sater says. “She came back to us with Lifetime’s Project Runway All Stars for the 2013 season.”

For this iconic beauty brand and Global 100 Top 10 mainstay, the project was still a little out of their comfort zone.

“It was a bit of a risk because Mary Kay is a very traditional company, and it’s a non-traditional show,” she says. “Also, Mary Kay is not a brand the show’s fans would have expected on Project Runway.”

The Show

Mary Kay went for it, and after a successful season with Project Runway All Stars in 2013, the marketing team received quite the phone call: Did they want to do the big show—the flagship program, Project Runway with Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn? It made total sense to continue with the partnership, because it allowed the brand to not only be an advertiser on the show, but to be in the show. One of their global makeup artists, Luis Casco,  was featured along with the Mary Kay Color Design Studio, including its products, providing a natural integration into every episode, every time it aired. Mary Kay branding appeared on national TV for Project Runway’s full 14-week schedule.

“It was such a great partnership between the show, the designers, Lifetime and the Mary Kay brand team,” Sater says. “The pace is so fast, and when I say one of Tim Gunn’s famous catch phrases, ‘make it work,’ there were times when we really had to make it work.”

She adds, “What really surprised me was that these people have one day to design and sew, and the next day they have their runway show,” she says. “It’s truly inspiring how hard they work to achieve their dreams. That’s another reason our brand lines up so well with the premise of the show. Mary Kay is all about people working hard to reach their goals and achieve their dreams, and that’s what you see on Project Runway.”

In addition to commercials, Mary Kay had vignettes with Casco giving makeup tutorials, as well as Project Runway’s makeup artists wearing Mary Kay branding and highlighting what color lipstick or eye shadow they would use in preparing models for the runway.

No show would be complete without a challenge, and the Mary Kay Challenge gave the company the opportunity to shine through using its slogan, Discover What You Love, which focused on inner beauty and real women. During the challenge, designers had to go out and find these “real” women such as students, tourists, and New York professionals, and design an outfit for them, send them to hair and makeup, and then down the runway like they would other models on the show. The winning designer received an ad in Marie Claire magazine, “which is huge for any designer to be featured in that magazine,” Sater says.

An experience, she says, Mary Kay probably would have not had the opportunity to do otherwise, was to be a part of New York Fashion Week, one of the world’s largest fashion weeks of the year, during Project Runway’s season finale.

Other branding opportunities connected to the show also included sponsoring the Mary Kay Fan Favorites poll, a digital program through, branded ads on the site, and videos, which Sater says were a huge part of the company’s high click-through rates from the Lifetime site to

The Salesforce

Needless to say the company’s Independent Beauty Consultants were ecstatic. Sater says that during the Mary Kay convention that year, waves of consultants were coming in excited about the company’s sponsorship of Project Runway, and eager to incorporate the show into their home parties.

The marketing team pulled all of Mary Kay’s elements from the Project Runway experience into their marketing tools to engage the field during the show, including their “Beaut-e News” newsletter that goes out to customers on behalf of their Beauty Consultant. It had all of the looks that were going to air and tune-ins for when to watch. Ads would link back to the looks or a profile about Casco, to introduce him to the public, as well as to exclusive videos and clips.

Sater says it was a great opportunity for social media interaction with a behind-the-scenes look at Casco’s quick makeup application tips videos, which received hundreds of thousands of views on social media.

“Beauty Consultants needed to know how to make it work for them, so we had a hub where they could go and download PDFs of the looks to use during their skincare and color parties,” Sater says.

The hub also was the place to find TV schedules so the salesforce could plan their parties, as well as other digital touch points, showing them products that were used so they could show their customers how to get the looks.

Heidi KlumProject Runway host and supermodel Heidi Klum welcomes attendees to New York Fashion Week during the show’s 2014 season finale.

The Results

“One thing we were trying to do was introduce new people to the brand, and we had a 21 percent increase in new visitors to and personal websites during the season—that’s huge,” Sater says.

Results for mobile showed a 19 percent increase in visits for the season and a 51 percent increase in searches for consultants using the Mary Kay consultant locator tool. There was a 36 percent increase in mobile orders.

“We feel like we did a good job of bringing new people in, getting them to a consultant and hopefully converting them to lifetime customers,” Sater says.

She adds that Lifetime did its own follow-up survey with a panel of viewers, which showed improvements in the way people perceived Mary Kay.

“Not only did they become more familiar with it and improve their opinion about the brand, but they didn’t realize Mary Kay was so fashionable! So we got that message across,” Sater says.

Most importantly, viewers took action, with 69 percent citing they would likely sample or try Mary Kay products after the show and 66 percent considering purchasing products. Of those surveyed, 59 percent visited and 54 percent actually purchased products.

The show was a hit with Independent Beauty Consultants, as well. “We surveyed Beauty Consultants post-season, and 75 percent said it increased their sales, and that is what we’re trying to do. It also brought a broader demographic. People who watched Project Runway probably didn’t really consider Mary Kay before, and now they are reaching out to find a Beauty Consultant.”

Because of its success with the program, Sater says Mary Kay is definitely sponsoring the show again this year, but will “space it out with fewer, bigger touch points.”

“We were very happy with how things went,” she says. “We don’t want to do the same thing, but that one was so cool. It’s hard to beat.”

She says with any major step into the unknown, a company hopes that the results will prove it was a good decision, so she was very satisfied with the experience and return on investment. The number of visitors to showed a huge increase, and data is still coming in from a broad brand relationship survey.

“Consideration went up, the number of people who said they wouldn’t consider us went way down. That’s something that we can be very proud of, changing impressions. If you look at things we’ve done differently, this was something that we did differently and did well. Hopefully it will be an indicator of things to come.”