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Over the Top or Off Brief? The Winners of the Met Gala from a Branding Perspective

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Bevan Mahaney, a creative director at Grey, on those that nailed the ‘camp’ brief - and those that didn’t

Over the Top or Off Brief? The Winners of the Met Gala from a Branding Perspective

Bill Eichner tweeted what many of us were feeling after this year’s Met Gala. So which celebs stuck to the theme and lit our imaginations on fire? And who went off brief and off brand?

Let’s read the room. The Met Gala ‘creative brief’ provided the ultimate opportunity for self-expression and unbridled creativity. The best creatives in the celebrity world dress for one moment in time, each representing their own brand through the lens of the theme: Camp. 

Camp is the over the top, exaggerated style that’s ironically appealing because of its bad taste. It has its history in the LGBTQ community.  As Lena Waithe reminded us, “Camp was created by queer drag queens.”

Let’s look at the truth about Met Gala attendees from a branding perspective: They’re just like us! Hungry creatives look for the right opportunity to show our truest potential. Like any brief, it’s important for us to stay on theme by honouring and taking inspiration from the community that inspired it. But not everyone printed out the brief and put it over their desks while concepting this year. 

For those that did, how did they make a splash while remaining true to audience, personal character and the LGBTQ community that inspired the theme? This is the challenge for brands and divas alike. 

Let’s take a look at some of the most winning looks, and how they reflect on creative expression of agreed-upon strategic objective. As you read, bear in mind the lesson to be learned for brands: while there is no one answer to a brief, you can succeed and fail in many different ways (at the same time.) When you don’t address the core purpose of your creative expression and the community behind it, people notice.


Here are the brand lessons learned from various looks…


COMMIT AND HEIGHTEN: Billy Porter

I don’t know what’s going on here, but I like it. Do I LOVE it? Ah, subjugating men has been done before but something about this reads Daenerys Targaryen meets that scene in Aladdin when the genie magics Aladdin into a prince meets Bolivian sun god. And is Billy’s face selling it or what? 

Branding takeaway: Because it’s statement-making, on-brief and definitely resonates with the target audience, people will be reposting with #mood for months to come. Here Billy beautifully honoured the drag queen roots that brought camp centrestage. Bravo.


BE TRUE TO PURPOSE: Elaine Welteroth

She’s on-brief and she infused a brand purpose in her piece, ‘Black Swan’. Here we see nothing but the simple, seamless beauty of this African American media powerhouse. 

Branding takeaway: Conservative but effective, and that works. It’s not breakthrough creatively but – like the woman herself – it’s smart and has depth. It also nods to the diversity of the LGBTQ community.


FIRST IDEA FAIL: Lena Dunham and Jemima Kirke

Went off brief. In my opinion, these two creatives had a few glasses of orange wine while concepting various approaches and convinced one another that their first idea was their best idea. It was not. 

Branding takeaway: Maybe next year, ask for the opinion of your peers before pushing the campaign out into the world.  Missed that over-the-top and fabulous inspiration from the LGBTQ community.


LONELY AT THE TOP: Lady Gaga

Beautiful but breakthrough? There were high expectations here. This was like hiring an ECD right off her Glass Lion win. What will she do next!? This is Lady Gaga’s year and Lady Gaga’s event. All eyes on her. Did she commit? Was it vibrant? Yes. But is that enough?

Branding takeaway: Sure, Stefani J. Germanotta was on brief. But with so much fresh talent and unique points of view out there (see Ezra Miller), we were left feeling more ‘ok’ than ‘awestruck’. Gaga has always done a good job honouring the community that inspired camp, but this execution landed flat for me.


GO BIG, GO BOLD: Cardi B 

Winner winner chicken dinner. Like a proud, glorious, peacock empress, Cardi brings it. Big, expansive, captivating and confident as hell. Did she go off brief? Absolutely, but she did so fabulously. Cardi B is undeniable for this year’s Met Gala assignment and for good reason: she took a big risk by going her own way (as she always does).

Branding takeaway: If you are going to break the rules, do it 100. This look, though not exactly camp is clearly inspired by the breakthrough drag queens who took it to the limit and beyond. Every time.


MEH, MEH, WOW: The Kardashians

Kylie’s feathered sensation is a bit of a yawn fest. It’s like she copied the formula from an award-winning 2004 campaign she wasn’t a part of but really ‘admired’. Same goes for Kendall, like, ok. Two boas. One event. But Kim’s dripping wet look is visually arresting. 

Branding takeaway: The art direction is A+. Is it on brief? Not exactly, but the vision is so complete and well executed that you have to pay attention to (and inevitably repost) the work. Kim’s crew clearly drew inspiration from the drag community while her sister’s outfits felt more like reproductions than reinventions.   


Brands can see here that the world rewards the bold (Cardi B); authenticity is undeniable (Billy Porter); and brand purpose resonates (Elaine Welteroth). And of course, always look to fresh new talent to bring a new perspective (Ezra Miller).

Brands can also see the dangers of copying old campaigns without fresh inspiration (Kylie and Kendall); the perils of committing to your first idea alone (Lena and Jemima); and the challenges and expectations that come with being the leading brand (Gaga).

So, for our industry’s next big challenge, let’s embrace the spirit of the brief, commit to our vision and bring the authenticity in a big, bold way. When we stay rooted in the inspiration behind the brief – in this case the LGBTQ community – we are bound to break through.

Your brand is on the red carpet after all, and it needs to dress accordingly.


Bevan Mahaney is a creative director at Grey
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Grey New York, Thu, 09 May 2019 15:12:22 GMT