This might blow your mind, but one of the biggest names in marketing these days is RuPaul. In addition to being massively popular, with 1.5 million Twitter followers and a ubiquitous media presence, she’s viewed as a highly influential marketer. A quick online search for “RuPaul and marketing” provides over 21 million hits, with many influencers and publications identifying her as a groundbreaking character and outstanding marketing partner.
By way of introduction, RuPaul Charles is a drag queen whose fame started with the song “Supermodel (You Better Work)” and who has subsequently parlayed her essential fierceness and humor into a reality show empire with “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” where winners are told “Shantay, you stay,” and losers are asked to “sashay away.”
A Vox article sums up the show’s appeal and grip on popular culture by stating that it has an “unfailing ability to find joy and wit in anything and everything ” and adheres to RuPaul’s mantra that “rarely takes life, or itself, very seriously at all.”
Some 14 TV seasons in, “Drag Race” remains a cultural force to be reckoned with, across U.S. and international audiences. This is largely because the show is so successful at building community and does so in an original way. By embracing traditionally marginalized communities like drag queens and the people who love them, RuPaul has created an inclusive, friendly – and funny – place for brands to reach consumers. The sort of fan loyalty that RuPaul inspires is something most companies can only dream of – particularly those that want to “look beyond the same old demographics and take unconventional routes to market.”
That’s called branding!
Even Newsweek reported on RuPaul’s influence on branding, via drag queen Trinity The Tuck, who said, “You know me as having the best tuck in the business, not because it’s true, but because it’s in my name. And that’s called branding!” Despite my deep well of pop culture knowledge, I do not know of any other significant TV series that has spoken to self-branding in this way and that has done so in such hilarious – and truly real – fashion.
What’s more, RuPaul enforces branding throughout the show and has resurrected iconic old-school moments, like the incorporation of the tagline from RIF.org, “Reading is fundamental.” These cultural touchstones resonate and offer valuable lessons to marketers and communicators when it comes to formulating our own strategies that integrate the cultural zeitgeist.
Adweek rightly suggests that marketers integrate the lessons that drag teaches us and that we should “take this cue when developing our own ideas and strategies.” Furthermore, the author suggests that marketers “use non-traditional metaphors and be committed to them when developing your concept. Feel the fantasy and invite others into your senses when presenting to colleagues. And, most importantly, give yourself permission to be visionary.”
This is solid advice for marketers, and as RuPaul once said, “Marketing yourself is not just for hookers anymore.”