Vanity Fair is the perfect forum for Caitlyn Jenner's introduction. Annie Leibovitz, Graydon Carter and the editorial team at Vanity Fair consistently strike a smart balance between art, news and human interest. The social discussion sparked by the cover and spread is extremely important. The time we spend on questions of equality and social awareness is invaluable. While Caitlyn's experience sheds an important light on transgender issues, it's also far from typical. Jenner combines celebrity and brand appeal into a unique combination. While independent from her transition, Caitlyn is part of the Kardashian/Jenner empire built by commercializing a lifestyle into a brand. The connection makes it impossible to ignore the financial element of the Jenner story. Vanity Fair's article is the most recent step in a well-orchestrated publicity program supporting a new brand. As media and marketing companies wade into the conversation, it will be interesting to see if they can find the same balance as Vanity Fair.
Endorsement vs. exploitation. Marketers love compelling personalities with social relevance. Michael Sam signed his endorsement with Visa prior to ever reaching the NFL. Arthur Ashe enjoyed a long run with American Express and Coca-Cola. So as Caitlyn Jenner's public persona takes shape, marketers are positioning themselves. The Kardashian clan's marketing history and Jenner's recent signing with CAA suggest that Caitlyn will welcome those opportunities. It will be important to walk the line between leveraging Jenner's celebrity and her social significance. MAC Cosmetics is rumored to be close to adding Jenner to the list of endorsers for VIVA GLAM that includes RuPaul, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Christina Aguilera. There are clear challenges to adapting a campaign built on those personalities to what Jenner brings. It would be very easy to slip into stereotypes and clichés.
Reality vs sensationalism. Not surprisingly, Jenner's current media push comes in front of a television series on E!. Rather than use the term "reality", E! refers to the show as a documentary that brings viewers into Jenner's "new normal". Coming from the network whose current lineup includes Keeping up with the Kardashians, Botched, #RichKids of Beverly Hills and New Money, it will be interesting to see how I am Cait fits. After the initial round of sit-down interviews, conversations on meaningful issues rarely translate to television ratings. Instead, programmers will be tempted to engineer drama to draw in audiences. Meaningful conversation will be usurped by fast-cut editing with conflicts manufactured from meaningless topics. Jenner veered down this path when she used her record setting Twitter account to ask, "What the hell am I going to wear?" in reaction to being selected for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award at July's ESPY Awards. The comment was particularly petty in light of the backlash over the choice of Jenner over Lauren Hill and Noah Galloway. The timing of ESPN's announcement to coincide with the Vanity Fair unveiling is part of the fuel for the #LaurenHillESPY topic. Hopefully, programming execs will resist turning a meaningful story into sensationalized pop culture.
Dialogue vs. Fatigue. Dialogues evolve and bring participants on a journey. They are two-way conversations. Fatigue occurs as the same points are hit repeatedly. To break the cycle, Jenner and her team have an opportunity to extend the narrative on a range of meaningful topics. Jenner's journey to this point is a compelling and engaging starting point. Consumer attention is easily lost as "breaking news" and is replaced with "developing news". The risk for media and marketers is not allowing that story to expand past Jenner herself. Worse than not broadening the story would be going back to a storyline that has been covered to the point of numbness. If the Jenner story started to repeat itself it will become a lightning rod for all sides of the discussion.
This post originally appeared on LinkedIn.