I've never felt the lure of the Hollywood lights. Want proof? Honest Tea, a company I founded nearly 20 years ago, continues to be based in Bethesda, Maryland.
Partnerships with celebrities are not right for every brand -- a bad match can cheapen an authentic brand, or cheapen a celebrity. But this month's announcement that Beyond Meat signed on Leonardo DiCaprio as an investor and advocate feels like a perfect move.
As executive chair of the Los Angeles-based plant-protein enterprise, I had to overcome my own misgivings over what can be superficial moments -- but there are several reasons this didn't feel like the usual movie star partnership. Here are three of the lessons we learned in putting this together:
1. The partner must be credible.
Several years ago, during a brainstorming discussion, our board identified Leo as an ideal profile of someone who could help make plant-based protein seem more mainstream.
Leo has been a vocal environmental activist for years, and set up his foundation almost 20 years ago to deal with issues of climate change and conservation. He was already attuned to the environmental benefits of shifting from animal meat to plant-based products like the Beyond Burger.
2. The partner should have more than a "smile and tweet" level of engagement.
It was after Leo tried our products that we started to explore working together. He gave us helpful feedback on many aspects of the brand, and we felt it made sense to bring him on as an investor and an advocate. We continue to explore collaborations that tie into his work.
3. The partner should have the power to help overcome a key challenge.
We want to change the perception that plant-based protein is only for tree huggers. We love vegans and vegetarians, but our greatest opportunity for growth and impact lies in winning over meat lovers. That's one of the reasons we pushed so hard for our Beyond Burger to be merchandised in the meat section of grocery stores.
Our ideal advocate wasn't the usual animal rights lover (though we couldn't have scripted that he would be filmed eating uncooked bison liver). We wanted someone like Leo to help raise awareness that a plant-based option like the Beyond Burger exists, as well as to model the behavioral change of simply adding more plant-based protein to your diet.
Although we just announced our partnership this month, we've already seen an impact. Our announcement of his involvement in Beyond Meat broke all our social media records -- it was liked more than any other post on our Instagram page.
And though we're currently focused on the U.S. market, our international inquiries -- from Bulgaria to Hong Kong -- have spiked as well. After all, Leo's recognized worldwide -- so when we decide to set our sights on international expansion, we expect our partnership with him to be just as valuable.