The 20 Marketing Leaders Shaping the Creator Economy
Marketing Rockstars 2023
Marketers are the rockstars of the creator ecosystem. They play the crucial role of opening doors for talent, driving innovation, and creating monumental cultural impact. The entertainment industry is undergoing significant disruption as branded content and brand experiences rival those of major television and movie studios. The future of entertainment lies within the realm of our phones, where creators take center stage, and marketers produce the show,” said Krishna Subramanian Co-Founder and CEO of Captiv8. “It’s an honor to celebrate some of the most unique leaders who are pushing the limits of creator marketing. This is just the beginning.”
CAPTIV8 Combines data intelligence and trusted storytellers to drive impactful results and help put their partners at the center of creator culture. They are award winning data scientists AND award winning creatives. As a minority owned business – they don’t just check the box on DEI, it’s in their DNA, and partners benefit from a variety of voices that truly reflect all key audiences. Data, efficiency and scalability make Captiv8 one of the most effective platforms for brands and creators. Captiv8 is the only platform and creator agency of record that is trusted by the top Fortune 500 brands.
By the end of 2022, the creator economy was worth more than $100 billion with more than 50 million people calling themselves “creators.” The number is only set to grow, and as brands grapple with a new marketing paradigm it’ll become increasingly vital to embrace, understand, and work with the makers and creators thriving across different platforms. Rolling Stone and Captiv8 identified the 20 marketers from athleisure to beauty to tech who are helping their brands tell stories in new, creator-driven ways.
Unilever, Samir Singh
If you’ve washed your hair, moisturized your skin, or lathered up your hands, chances are Samir Singh was involved. The CMO for Personal Care at global consumer goods Unilever has been on a mission to engage with its billion-strong community of customers in honest and inclusive ways, and has been working with a global cadre of creators to do just that. “We are unleashing the power of authentic, original creators across the world to talk about what these brands mean to them in small and big ways,” says Singh.
Liquid Death, Greg Fass
How do you make water go viral? Just ask Greg Fass, who as VP of Marketing for Liquid Death has been behind some of the most memorably irreverent ad campaigns in recent memory. But the canned water company’s strategy isn’t just zagging when others zag. There’s an incredible blend of mischief and soul in everything they do, and Fass is the man in the middle of that mixture. “Our goal when working with creators is to always put entertainment first in hopes of winning the internet for the day. We like to ask ourselves, what’s something that only Liquid Death and this person could create together? Whether we’re developing creative with Tony Hawk, Martha Stewart, or Bert Kreischer, we like to start with what a creator is widely known for and then flip it on its head to come up with something hilariously unexpected.”
Pepsi, Todd Kaplan
Pepsi has been synonymous with cultural touchstones for decades. (Who can forget Britney Spears offering the world a red, white, and blue can?) But Kaplan has been busy bringing the marquee soda brand into the creator age by engaging with the billions of Pepsi lovers around the world. Kaplan knows that some of the best marketing ideas are coming from the ground up, and he’s making sure one of the world’s biggest brands is listening.
McDonald’s, Tariq Hassan
The sign underneath every pair of golden arches tells you everything you need to know about McDonald’s reach: Billions and billions served. Hassan is focused on listening to and working with those billions of satisfied customers, and knows that growing the brand means forging meaningful relationships with fans. Hassan is even turning over the pen to creators to reimagine signature brand artifacts like the Happy Meal, giving them the space to riff and remix to create something truly unique and culturally momentous. “McDonald’s fans are true creators and influencers in their own right – they are engaging with the brands in their lives more than ever, and that’s a really exciting opportunity for us as marketers,” says Hassan. “We’re putting the brand at the center of culture to meet them where they are… and that’s why you’re seeing us team up with some of the hottest artists in music and hugely-talented fashion designers, who are true brand fans at heart, to bring their own spin to the Golden Arches.”
PacSun, Brieane Olson
PacSun could have gone the way of so many mall brands who saw their fortunes sour with the rise of e-commerce. But Olson knew the brand still had cachet with Gen Z consumers who aspired to the California Cool aesthetic. “At Pacsun, we understand the importance of an all-encompassing marketing strategy that allows us to speak to our community on several different levels,” says Olson. True to that mission, Olson started engaging with that community, turning fans into creators and creators into brand evangelists.
Logitech, Erin Chin
Logitech has been one of the biggest boosters of the creator economy as it has grown over the past few years, and Chin has been one of the effort’s biggest cheerleaders. The technology company has been especially active on the music front, with Chin spearheading programs that explore how creators putting their own spin on chart topping music has created a paradigm shift in how we see and listen. “I believe it is the duty of brand leaders like myself to make an impact on culture by driving the change that we all want to see in the world,” says Chin. “Myself and my team embrace this wholeheartedly. And we do it with our consumers—gamers and creators—at the very heart of everything that we do.”
Zappos, Ginny McCormick
Zappos has been famous for their customer-obsession since they got their start. But McCormick is attempting to take that focus one step further by engaging with their loyal community of customers and putting them at the center of the firm’s marketing story. Inclusivity is at the center of that effort as well, and McCormick is adamant about bringing as many perspectives into the brand’s marketing efforts as possible whether that’s from their brand partners or from their customer creators. “We see all consumers as part of the creator community whether they are producing content, sharing reviews onsite, or providing feedback to our famous customer service team,” says McCormick.
Hilton, Mark Weinstein
Posting a selfie from a plush Hilton hotel room is basically a right of passage, but Weinstein realized that turning those hospitality lovers into brand ambassadors could be a turning point in the legendary brand’s marketing strategy. But Weinstein is also bucking trends on creator platforms. Take Hilton’s 10-minute TikTok that went viral against all odds. It just goes to show that the creator economy hasn’t changed the golden rule in marketing: Being conventional doesn’t break through the noise.
Walmart, William White
When you sell everything, it can be difficult to know what stories to tell—so why not leave it up to your customers? That was White’s logic when Walmart launched Walmart Creator, which lets creators who sign up receive sales commissions on thousands of items. It’s a massive democratization effort from the world’s biggest retail company, and White knows putting the power in the hands of their creators will pay dividends. “We launched Walmart Creator because we saw an opportunity to expand our network of creators and deepen our relationship with them by providing tools they need to be successful. We believe anyone – no matter the size of their following, no matter their platform of choice – can create inspirational content and stories. With Walmart Creator, creators can utilize a suite of resources, including carefully curated product collections to inspire their next content story and an analytics dashboard to help track and view performance to understand how customers engaged with their content. While the platform is currently in beta, we’re looking forward to launching more broadly so we can further empower our creator community and inspire customers with great product and content.” says White.
Chipotle, Chris Brandt
Menu hacks present a conundrum for restaurants, but Brandt realized early on that there was opportunity in the chaos of order remixing. “We focus on building direct relationships with creators who know how to make stellar content for their communities and are existing fans of Chipotle,” says Brandt. So his team tapped creators who had gone viral ordering off-menu at Chipotle and made them vital components of marketing campaigns, including the release of new menu items like the fajita quesadilla.
Mastercard, Raja Rajamannar
When people talk about the “creator economy,” they’re usually talking about the first word and ignoring the second. Not Rajamannar and the rest of the Mastercard team. “Creation is core to the human experience. From music and architecture to gastronomy and technology, creation is how we connect to the world around us,” he says. The payment and tech giant knows that one of the most difficult parts of being a creator is getting paid whether it’s by brands or fans. Take their Web3 artist accelerator where Rajamannar and his team are connecting artists with mentors from around the world to learn the ropes about creating content on tomorrow’s platforms. “Over the past many years, it has been a privilege for Mastercard to help creators thrive in the digital economy. Across a range of programs, we encourage and empower them to follow their passions in purposeful and impactful ways,” says Rajamannar.
Savage X Fenty, Natalie Guzman
Few brands have had the sort of meteoric rise that Savage X Fenty has enjoyed—and much of that is due to the power of genuine community building. Guzman has been at the center of that effort, working with influencers and creators since the brand’s launch in 2018. Guzman also knew that the creators Savage X Fenty worked with had to reflect the brand’s own values, so they focused on working with a diverse, inclusive set of creators to support and seed marketing campaigns. “We’re proud of the community we’ve built and grateful to all of our partners and creators for their support of and role in building the Savage X Fenty brand,” says Guzman.
GymShark, Noel Mack
Breaking into the workout wear world can be a fool’s errand, but Mack defied the odds and made Gymshark into one of the world’s most recognizable brands in and out of the gym in a few short years. His secret? Making fitness into a lifestyle and getting influencers to spread the word. Gymshark Athletes was a pioneering creator program that centered the people using the brand to achieve their fitness goals and inspire others. ““The creator economy is the most exciting thing to happen to marketing and branding in a long time. We stand here today, having bootstrapped a brand from 0 to over a billion in 7 years, thanks to a whole new world of creators and their audiences,” says Mack. He knew building a community one gym trip at a time would be tough, but it’s led to one of the biggest marketing success stories in years.
TikTok, Kudzi Chikumbu
Chikumbu brings something rare to the upper echelons of the creator economy: empathy. He understands what creators go through because that’s where he began his career. “I started off as a creator and I hold that experience near and dear to my heart. Creators want to feel seen, appreciated, empowered and amplified. That is the work I have dedicated myself to doing,” says Chikumbu. Having someone like Chikumbu in a leadership seat at TikTok puts the platform in a position to give their community exactly what they need when they need it.
Delta, Tim Mapes
Delta knows that one bad flight can lose you a loyal customer forever. That’s why Mapes has asked creators to put the airline’s customer experience front and center. “Creators have built trust with their highly engaged audiences which creates a loyalty that’s uniquely their own,” says Mapes. It’s a highwire act—you can’t hide less-than-stellar in-flight circumstances—but it speaks to Mapes and Delta’s dedication to putting their customer creators at the center of everything and letting them be your most ardent supporters.
E.L.F., Ekta Chopra
E.L.F. beauty has been focusing on inclusivity in cosmetics since 2004, and Chopra has been at the helm of the brand’s digital presence for 7 years. During that time, Chopra has brought beauty influencers into the fold and doubled down on E.L.F.’s mission. Beauty standards can feel like a cultural imposition, but by working with a wide array of creators from every background, Chopra is helping everyone feel beautiful, no matter what. “Innovation without empathy is just disruption, speed without empathy is just haste,” says Chopra. “But when we combine innovation, disruption, speed, and empathy, we create a powerful force that can truly transform the world.”
Taco Bell, Sean Tresvant
Even as tastes change, Taco Bell’s relevance among tastemakers and creators remains. Tresvant’s ability to keep Gen Z engaged approaches marketing alchemy, and his focus on connecting with the chain’s massive network of fans in irreverent and genuine ways has led to Taco Bell’s massive—and stable—popularity in a crowded market. “Influencers have played a very important role in the continued evolution of Taco Bell’s brand and marketing initiatives. The real unlock for us in many ways was to relinquish control and trust the process and partners. And while that’s tough at times — if you’re partnering with the right people, in the right ways, you’ll uncover some amazing work that authentically connects in a meaningful and genuine way. We saw that shine through with Doja Cat and our Mexican Pizza work and the results were phenomenal” says Tresvant.
Bose, Jim Mollica
There’s a certain virtue to doing one thing extremely well. In Bose’s case, that one thing is sound—and Mollica is using the brand’s decades of dedication to build audio experiences for listeners around the globe. He’s betting big on the role that music plays both in people’s lives and in creators’ work, knowing that sound is the current a lot of the most ingenious makers swim in and key to helping their work thrive.
Rhode, Lauren Ratner
As Head of Brand, Ratner oversees rhode’s brand identity, positioning and strategy, bringing the brand and its values to life across all touchpoints. She also spearheads the marketing strategy for the company, leveraging content to generate buzz and acquire new customers. Ratner works closely with founder, Hailey Bieber, to ensure all aspects of the brand are authentic to her broader vision, playing a pivotal role in shaping every rhode product launch, campaign, photoshoot, digital and experiential touchpoint.
American Express, Elizabeth Rutledge
American Express has been making supporting small businesses an integral part of their company’s mission for years, but last year Rutledge wanted to help those mom-and-pop shops reach Gen Z customers on creator platforms like TikTok. So Amex partnered with the team at TikTok to give small businesses ad credits to reach younger audiences and worked with influencers to spread the word about supporting local stores. Rutledge’s strategy to embrace and support creators by doubling down on her company’s values shows that sometimes the most effective way of doing something is staying true to the values that got you here in the first place. “Creating an authentic connection with our audience starts by truly understanding who they are and what matters most to them. By developing strong partnerships built on trust and collaboration, we are able to deliver engaging content that brings our Card Members closer to their passions. It’s been so much fun bringing this to life and delivering on our promise that experiences are better #withAmex.”