If youre a gin drinker, someone searching for a cheap wireless plan or happen to be shopping around for an ad agency
odds are youve heard of Aviation Gin, Mint Mobile and Maximum Effort—three ventures that occupy the time of Ryan Reynolds. And even if none of these circumstances applies to you, odds are you’ve at least heard of Reynolds himself.
Because of his Deadpool movies, of course—but lately, even more so because of his work as a marketer.Reynolds is the creative dynamo behind some of the most amusing, sardonic and memorable ads of the past couple of years. The spot claiming Aviation tasted so good because the Unitarian Church of Fresno blessed every bottle? That Mint Mobile segment that pulled ’80s star Rick Moranis into a field of potted mint, only to ignore him? Reynolds didn’t just star in those videos—he dreamed them up and wrote the script, too.
Reynolds’ somewhat frightening ability to read the cultural landscape and then pop out perfectly timed material that’s even drier than his gin has made him a marketing phenom. (Enough of one that liquor giant Diageo made a deal potentially worth up to $610 million for Aviation last month.)
The feat would be noteworthy alone were it not for Reynolds’ already established career as a Hollywood actor, producer, writer and social media heavyweight. These forces taken together motivated Adweek to name Reynolds as its Brand Visionary for 2020.
As a relative newcomer to marketing, Reynolds certainly has a lot to say about it—and no shortage of wisdom that, he argues, is applicable to most any brand. Earlier today, Reynolds shared some of his insights with Adweek’s creativity and innovation editor David Griner during our Brandweek virtual event, including seven lessons for anyone in the marketing business.
Less bureaucracy allows for more creativity
Though he splits creative duties with Maximum Effort president George Dewey and has built a staff of “marketeers,” as he calls them, Reynolds’ shop remains small and informal. Not having to deal with bureaucracy, hierarchy and corporate bloat, he said, gives him a competitive edge. “I don’t know the nuances of typical ad agencies,” he admitted. “I’ve met some of them. While I respect what they do and how they do it, I get why it’s challenging. You have all this interplay between the clients and the agencies and the back-and-forth. When you’re one and the same [as we are], I will freely admit that it’s an unfair advantage.” Since Reynolds doesn’t have to go to meetings, send memos or wait for approvals, he’s far more agile as a creative. And that’s essential when the work itself fits into larger cultural conversations that are always changing. “I can turn something around in 36 hours that another company would take weeks to figure out,” Reynolds said.
To be a good marketer, be a consumer first
Reynolds is well known for being the owner of Aviation Gin, but he only bought his stake after becoming a fan of the spirit first. Named after the Aviation cocktail invented in New York in 1916, Aviation Gin got its start as a boutique brand 14 years ago. While shooting the first Deadpool film in Vancouver in 2015, Reynolds would occasionally wander down to the bar in his hotel and order a Negroni, which the bartender made specifically with the Aviation brand. And a Negroni or two was all it took: “I fell in love with the gin,” Reynolds said. So instead investing in a brand and then learning to like it, Reynolds liked the brand before investing. “It was kind of the perfect way to be introduced to a product,” he said. “There was no nefarious master plan. It was just: I love this gin.” Because he’s a fan of the spirit, Reynolds said, it’s not just easier to market it—he operates under the assurances that other consumers will like it, too. After all, he said, his name alone wouldn’t sustain the brand if it wasn’t any good. “I can sell somebody one bottle of Aviation Gin,” he said. After that, “Aviation Gin has to sell itself.”
Authenticity always triumphs
Deadpool made over $783 million worldwide at the box office, but it was shot for only $58 million. (“That’s like the cocaine budget for a regular movie,” Reynolds quipped.) With few dollars available for explosions and other big-budget cinematic effects, Reynolds—instrumental in the writing and production—found himself adding more dimension and personality to his character. “I learned so much working on [that] each and every day,” he said. “I knew that authenticity connected with audiences.”
So, by making his character more relatable—say, rather than opting for just another car chase or explosion—Reynolds helped moviegoers to feel a greater sense of connection with the sarcastic superhero Deadpool. “We really learned to use character in place of spectacle,” Reynolds said. “That was such a lesson to me. And I applied some of those principles to marketing.” Speed is good, too
One of Aviation Gin’s marketing home runs was a spoof on the disastrous holiday ad that Peloton loosed on the world last year, the one that featured a guy buying one of the expensive exercise bikes for his wife/girlfriend. Many regarded the spot as both sexist (“Here, honey, you should lose some weight”) and classist (a $2,250 bike as a stocking stuffer?) Within hours, “Peloton Wife” had stoked the fires of righteous rage across the web, helping to send Peloton stock into a 15% fall by week’s end. While Peloton focused on damage control, Reynolds was planning a riposte. Within days, he’d written and shot an ad featuring actress Monica Ruiz—the Peloton Wife herself—guzzling Aviation Gin martinis at a bar with her friends and, in the process, drowning the pain of women everywhere.
Reynolds refers to the spot as “fastvertising”—the ability to cook up a clever idea and get it out as quickly as possible. In this case, speed was just as important as concept, and a rapid response is “one of those principles that I found worked really well,” he said. “We don’t have a corporate structure or a ladder that I have to go up to get a whole bunch of approvals, because I’m the owner,” Reynolds explained. “So we get to move quickly on an idea and execute it quickly while it’s still in the zeitgeist.”
Though he may be a dashing success story today, Reynolds paid his dues to get where he’s at. And it was a willingness to do the grunt work—and learn the associated lessons—that’s given him the sense of accountability required to run a company. After acting in the teen series Fifteen between 1991 and 1993, Reynolds found only a handful of roles, including a bit part in a 1996 episode of The X-Files. With no trust fund to fall back on, Reynolds had no choice but to take a series of hourly service jobs, including one working late nights at a supermarket. But Reynolds values those shift jobs and what they taught him. “I was never afraid [to do that work],” he said, “and I look back now and see that learning accountability was so important. If I was 15 minutes late for work at the grocery store [where] I worked at midnight to 8 a.m., unless I had a good reason I was fired.” “Early on, having six or seven day-to-day, 9-to-5-type jobs that were shift work really taught me the importance of accountability,” he continued. “That’s helped me a lot in terms of being responsible and creative.”
Celebrity status isn’t everything
As a household name and a man with 36 million Instagram followers, Reynolds acknowledges that his name on a brand makes an obvious difference. “The celebrity aspect of it supercharges things,” he said, and “having millions and millions of social media followers—that’s an advantage that is second to none.” But Reynolds believes his popularity hinges on his modesty, and he’s proven it by putting himself in the back seat even when it would be easier to stand in the spotlight. “One of the lessons I’ve learned is always to remain self-effacing and imbue that into your marketing,” he said, “whether you’re a tiny agency or a tiny company growing, or somebody that’s huge.”
In fact, he added, consumers have historically liked to cheer on the little guy anyway, not the leading man with all the looks and money. “I don’t think anybody wants to watch Goliath. They want to watch David.” (He was referring to the parable, by the way, and not to agency David&Goliath.) And while Reynolds has indeed starred in many of his own ads, as time goes on he’s increasingly been staying behind the camera. These days, “when I’m in an ad,” he said, “it’s usually a last resort.”
Consumers are tiring of endorsers
It’s hard to name a major brand that doesn’t have a famous face promoting it, and endorsement deals go back to the earliest days of advertising. But over the past decade, a number of endorsements haven’t quite passed the sniff test. Remember Kim Kardashian for Charmin toilet paper? Snoop Dogg hawking Hot Pockets? What about Steven Tyler singing for Skittles? Though he’s a celebrity himself, Reynolds thinks this kind of marketing is showing its age. “So much of our industry is based around ambassadorship, and that’s an older construct,” he said. “I don’t think it works as well anymore.” So what does work? Celebrities will always have marketing clout, of course, but Reynolds said consumers now expect them to have real skin in the game. “People want to feel that you, the celebrity, or you, the face of a brand, has a genuine connection to that brand,” he said. “And they know if you don’t.”
Fortunately for Reynolds, his involvement in the day-to-day of his brands is legit, and a thing he makes no secret of. The day may be coming when other endorsers will need to do more than just accept a generous check and head for the door. You can’t just “show up, shoot something, then leave,” he said. “You have to have a passion for it.”