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How Bobbi Althoff Became The Spark That Created The Fire With L’Oreal’s Michael Cera CeraVe Ad Campaign – SXSW

“This is my worst nightmare,” exclaimed the social media influencer-podcaster Bobbi Althoff atop her first SXSW panel today “Superstar Brands: Connection in the Era of Creators.”

At first the 11 million-strong deadpan talk show interviewer looked like she was going to melt into liquid onstage in a puddle of shyness. This certainly wasn’t going to be a discussion about underground train systems in LA and missions to Mars ala Elon Musk’s chat with Jonathan Nolan back at SXSW 2018.

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However, Althoff warmed up as she sat on stage with L’Oreal’s CeraVe SVP & Global Head of Digital Marketing, Adam Kornblum, and Chief Digital & Marketing Officer Han Wen. For it finally became revealed how the Aubrey Plaza-type personality became a lynchpin in the grand master marketing plan of the beauty conglom leading up to Super Bowl Sunday with their CeraVe product.

In sum, Althoff in her Jan. 25 sit down with Michael Cera was an essential component in spreading the intriguing viral narrative that the Barbie actor was the architect of the CeraVe beauty line.

Truth is, he’s not. But, boy, did the product’s profile get raised from the ruse. L’Oreal bought the CeraVe brand in 2017. The advanced skincare product line was founded in 2005.

The whole social media sensation with CeraVe began back in January 2020 when filmmaker Tyler Perry made a comment online about needing skin moisturizer. Tom Allison, founder of CeraVe, responded by offering to Perry the product. Allison’s tweet to Perry racked up 30,7K likes and close to 2k retweets. Perry wound up take a selfie with the skin product.

“It was a big moment,” said Kornblum, “Each day we try to crack the culture.”

In re-igniting CeraVe this year, Kornblum told the JW Marriot room in Austin, TX that a brief was sent to the beauty company’s ad agency “to create an immersive story. We wanted to do in phases all over digital and social touch points. Then we have this Super Bowl spot. We needed a 360-degree world, how to order codes and dominate culture.”

Their CeraVe campaign rolled out in three phases.

Phase one: the fake news about Michael Cera developing the brand.

Detailed Kornblum, “Enter Bobbi who interviews Michael and seriously and directly asks him (about creating CeraVe). He couldn’t answer, he just said ‘He had skin in the game.'”

It was a massive moment that went viral sans paid media, discreetly labeled as “#ad” in Althoff’s post.

Phase 2: There’s a public backlash with dermatologists associated with the brand exclaiming how Cera “doesn’t sign our checks.” That phase lasted two weeks.

Phase 3 was the actual Super Bowl ad for CeraVe starring Cera in which he sarcastically says he’s the maestro behind the creme. The ad ends with the pull of the curtain and we learn it was all a joke.

Before the ad dropped, the L’Oreal marketing team had racked up some 9 billion impressions across social and digital about the CeraVe product.

The upfront strategy relied heavily on PR spurred by Althoff, memes, various news breaks to create “an organic and earned approach” per Kornblum. “We had everyone working –social media influencers from digital to email to SMS; every day was a real-time command center.”

Wen added that it was important in the campaign that “if everything isn’t going well, we’d be able to pivot and take punches.”

Althoff was shameless in her involvement: “Um, I got an email from my agent at WME, and they were like do you want to work with CeraVe. I clicked it. I looked at the number. I was like ‘I’m intrigued’ and I said ‘yes’ before reading the brief.”

“Then I read the brief with my little sister, and said “Oh my God, Lexi, did you know Michael Cera made CeraVe? She was like ‘I had no idea.’ We aren’t good at reading very well.”

Althoff received an all-expense paid trip to New York. “It was the most exciting day of my career. It was like a real film set-up. My podcast is done so crappy,” she confessed. L’Oreal’s team of videographers worked with her Althoff’s editors, the influencer having a big say in the creative.

The appeal of Althoff to L’Oreal was her authenticity. Wen recalled the moment when she met Althoff who shared quite sincerely that the twentysomething named her daughter ‘Richard.’ Althoff went in that direction, because she wanted to have a boy.

“What resonated with me was that’s actually something that everyone can resonate with; it’s so hard to script and it’s all genuine,” said Wen.

Althoff says her personal secret to success stems from working with brands “that I use in my day-to-day life.”

“It’s easier to let viewers know when I’m not lying about something,” Althoff said.

She said she wrote a list of “every brand I use in my day-to-day life and have my agent reach out to them.” CeraVe was a product she use to get samples of from her dermatologist when she was treating her acne back in high school.

Emphasized Althoff, “I lean into every brand I work with — I get paid, they get people to buy their product.”

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