Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Jay Richards: Jay Z and Rihanna show how tapping community and diversity can be a brand’s superpower

Jay Richards, NDA’s regular columnist, is the Co-Founder of Imagen (previously DivInc), an agency helping brands collaborate with Gen Z through its pool of over 200,000 Gen Z individuals.

In 2006, Cristal was the champagne of choice for most rappers, meaning it was the champagne of choice for anyone that loved hip-hop. Roederer Managing Director Frédéric Rouzaud was asked whether the association would harm the Cristal brand, he replied, “that’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. I’m sure Dom Pérignon or Krug would be delighted to have their business.”

“It has come to my attention that the managing director of Cristal, Frédéric Rouzaud, views the “hip-hop” culture as “unwelcome attention”’, said Jay-Z. ‘I view his comments as racist and will no longer support any of his products through any of my various brands, including the 40/40 Club, nor in my personal life.”

Jay Z took that offense and turned it into a $600 million champagne brand, Armand de Brignac. (He just sold a 50% stake to LVMH for a healthy little sum last week.)

Stories like this challenge and inspire us. Jay Z saw that his community wasn’t welcome at the table and instead of trying to force his way into the room, he built his own.

Rihanna launched Savage X Fenty in 2018, Savage X Fenty is a lingerie brand that “celebrates fearlessness, confidence and inclusivity.” The brand delivered $600 million worth of sales in 2019 and is tipped to continue this growth over the next decade, with a recent raise of $115 million from LVMH to expand into retail stores.

On the other side of the coin, we have Victoria Secrets which has had to shut 200+ stores as sales began to stagnate (they’ve also been accused of being the exact opposite of diverse regarding the body types and ethnicity of their models).

How can such similar brands be having such wildly different experiences? Does it boil down to Rihanna understanding the concept of serving her community and understanding that being a diverse brand is Savage X Fenty’s superpower?

It’s not only celebrities that are realising the power of their community. Tala was launched by Grace Beverley in 2019 – the brand boasts sustainable activewear for all sizes and their debut collection sold out in just 20 minutes. Grace started Tala as a complete outsider to the industry but she had the foundation of believing that in order to make the business scalable she needed a diverse community to encourage diverse customers.

One look at their website and you can see the differences in the models that feature. Grace’s bet on creating a diverse brand centered around it’s community has paid off and one of her loyal customers confesses [that] “trying to buy something during an exclusive Tala drop is like an extreme sport.” As a result of Grace’s vision, Tala continues to grow with the brand amassing sales of £6.2m in its first year of trading.

This is how we believe that we can help address the inequalities within the space that our business operates in. At Imagen 1 of our 3 core internal values is ‘diversity is our strength’ and we truly live up to that value, our Gen Z community is 18% from a low income background, 10% LGBTQIA+ and 5% disabled, 65% female, 25% black and 25% asian. The diversity of our team and our community is our superpower.

We constantly hear talk about the advertising industry’s lack of diversity and the apparent lack of interest in diverse talent but we believe the talent is out there and we are proving it every day. We have built our business with a diverse workforce at the helm which enables us to build a diverse community. While we appreciate established businesses have to start somewhere, having the right attitude to change is where it needs to begin. Choosing this path enables us to show brands the colossal benefits there are from having diverse voices in the room when gaining insights.

Our clients like BBH, eBay, Gymshark and PepsiCo partner with us because they want diverse qualitative insights from Gen Z. They understand that they can’t build the brands of the future without all the voices in the room being accounted for.

Jay Z and Rihanna know the power of their communities – they understood that Frédéric Rouzaud and Victoria Secrets couldn’t see that strength so they tackled it themselves and the outcome has been magnificent. Imagen is doing the same, our clients have access to our superpower and they’re creating the future because of it.

To see more of Jay’s columns go to