Commentary

The Making of Caitlyn Jenner: A Media Campaign Like No Other

The central challenge was this: Manage an A-list male celebrity’s public transformation to female, which includes not only getting everyone to accept it, but to praise and honor it as well.

The goal: To make it possible for Bruce Jenner to live normally, and perhaps even profit from, his new identity as Caitlyn Jenner.

Maybe the bright prospects for Jenner in the court of public opinion are made all that much easier by the times we live in. I’m not sure when this happened, but somewhere along the line it became a “new normal” for a man to identify as a woman if he chooses without shocking his neighbors or otherwise drawing stunned stares wherever he then goes.

Of course, where staring is concerned, I doubt Caitlyn “Formerly Bruce” Jenner will avoid that. In addition, just because the neighbors might not act like they’re shocked doesn’t mean they’re not; they’re just afraid to say so, lest they be vilified by the speech police on social media.

Let’s review the Caitlyn Jenner rollout so far. You might say it began in an unmanaged way last year, with supermarket tabloids and TMZ.com trailing Jenner and noting in photos and videos how his physical characteristics such as his hair length seemed to be changing.

So Jenner eventually decided to bring an end to the speculation about his apparent transformation, which was already under way. His first order of business: Admitting in a People magazine cover story in early February that, yes, he’s undergoing this transformation.

Then, that same week, he was interviewed by Diane Sawyer for a two-hour prime-time special that didn’t turn up on ABC until nearly three months later on April 24. The special drew a very robust audience of just under 17 million viewers. But Jenner didn’t allow Sawyer and her crew to film him dressed as a female, nor did he divulge the name he would adopt and announce this week. 

After giving this TV exclusive to Sawyer and ABC, Jenner then took up the opportunity to amplify his transformation story in the context of his reality-TV family -- the Kardashians, plus his two daughters Kylie and Kendall Jenner. His “journey” became the focal point of a special edition of “Keeping Up With the Kardashians” that aired in two parts on E! on May 17 and 18.

This week, in the most stunning development so far, he’s the sultry cover subject on Vanity Fair magazine, declaring that from now on he shall be known as Caitlyn. The nation’s media immediately started referring to him as “her” and “she.”

Enlisting Vanity Fair was a shrewd step in the Caitlyn rollout because this is a magazine that still possesses a reputation as “classy,” “smart” and “literate.” And it gave Jenner access to a star photographer, Annie Leibovitz, and a star writer, Buzz Bissinger -- elements that helped make for a coming out that was polished to a high gloss.

It also helped that the magazine cover photo and feature story (in the July issue of VF) were kept so hush-hush until the announcement on Monday. The secrecy ensured that the announcement and accompanying image achieved maximum impact on social media, the entertainment-news Web sites and TV shows, and TV newscasts all over the place where the story was positioned high on everybody’s news lists.

And on the same day, the story was propelled forward with the announcement that Jenner would receive the annual Arthur Ashe Courage Award to be bestowed July 15 at ESPN’s ESPY Awards in Los Angeles. This annual awards telecast can likely look forward to record ratings as viewers who otherwise would not give a hoot about the ESPYs will tune in to see Caitlyn in what is being billed as her first live-TV appearance.

The timing for Jenner is perfect. Just about two weeks after the awards -- on Sunday, July 26 -- Caitlyn’s new reality show (which is not yet titled) will premiere the first of its planned eight episodes on E!. I predict the newly out Caitlyn will be out and about promoting the show on TV and in magazines in the days leading up to the premiere.

What’s my own opinion? That the rollout has been very shrewdly managed, although I have to question the choice of the name Caitlyn. This is a person -- a man -- undergoing a gender-reidentification process at age 65. “Caitlyn,” therefore, strikes me as a “young” name, not one likely to be given to a girl born in 1950. Which has me wondering: What was wrong with Linda, Karen or Barbara, if you don’t mind my asking?

 

10 comments about "The Making of Caitlyn Jenner: A Media Campaign Like No Other".
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  1. Jonathan Hutter from EMHS (Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems), June 2, 2015 at 11:53 a.m.

    There is nothing normal about this process. People undergoing sex changes do not put themselves on the cover of Vanity Fair, give interviews to ABC News, or make themselves featured subjects on reality TV. ESPN's choice of Caitlyn for the Arthur Ashe award was nothing more than a grab for ratings, as people will be tuning in in droves to see how she looks.

    For those who claim to support this change and "trueness" to one's self that this process involves, I call bullshit on that too. Look at all of the supportive comments Caitlyn Jenner has received. They all talk about how great she looks. Talk about superficial. I guess you get the territory you stake for yourself.

    If Caitlyn Jenner really wanted a normal process and to be allowed to finally be the person she is, she'd do it without involving the rest of us, thereby sparing us (and me) a break from this nonsense.


    PS - many of us in the office here agree with your assessment of the name selection.  

  2. Evan Brown from Atlatl Media, June 2, 2015 at 1:38 p.m.

    The question remains, how does Jenner want to be remembered: an athlete first and a gender-switcher second, or vice versa. I think it is the latter, which is sad, because switching genders isn't an accomplishment ... it's a surgical procedure.

    I am reminded of two other (albeit lesser) celebrities who made a similar transistion, punker Wayne County became Jayne County. Jayne County continues to perform and write music. Walter Carlos, who was a music pioneer, introducing us to classical music on the Moog Synthesizer, became Wendy Carlos, who still continues to lead the development of synthesized classical music. In both of their cases, the gender change, although public, was secondary to their focus and recognition in life.

    As an Olympian who chose to quietly and personally make this transistion and find a way to compete or continue to support Olympic sports and athletes, I suspect posthumous memories of Jenner would focus on the athleticism.

    Unfortunately, the route chosen was that as a celebrity who changed genders publicly, grandstanding the process in front of a willing media who saw the sensationalism as an opportunity to increase ratings as sell magazines.

    This means Jenner will be probably be remembered more as "just another Kardashian," the trailer trash of pop culture. Pity.

  3. Michael Kaplan from Blue Sky Creative, June 2, 2015 at 1:56 p.m.

    Evie - To be fair, it's not like Bruce/Caitlyn can continue to work in the career that made him famous. Unlike most adults who choose sex reassignment -- including the folks you mentioned -- Jenner COULDN'T keep working as an athlete. There's not a lot of call for a 60something decathalete.


    That said, I'm a bit astonished at the level of coverage this is getting. We are more than 50 years past the era of <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christine_Jorgensen">Christine Jorgensen.</a> You'd think we have more important things to obsess over. Apparently not.

  4. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 2, 2015 at 7:24 p.m.

    Don't care about his choices to become a her or her name. That's her life. It really is nobody's business except hers and her family. What the problem is as I see it is the commercialization and the huge, huge, huge financial bonuses that will drop into her life and getting her off the accident responsibilty. Many people living ordinary lives who live with the same needs will never have the means for very expensive surgeries to do what he did. They are not looking for publicity and will never be capitalizing on gender change or probably want to in order to balance their lives. Unless she donates the money for transitions, the outcome of "helping others" may backfire.

  5. Marcelo Salup from Iffective LLC, June 3, 2015 at 8:28 a.m.

    I know more than a few transgenders. First off, my hat's off to the people managing the process, because they have done an excellent job. Second, however, this gender transition has received its share of ridicule and criticism. I don't think it was for the transition at all, but for the perception that Bruce now Caitlyn has attempted to profit from every minute of it in the most overt, transparent way. And I think that is what people have found unacceptable in many ways.

  6. cara marcano from reporte hispano, June 3, 2015 at 11:10 a.m.

    There is nothing wrong with women making money & creating jobs the right way. The FIFA guys could learn a lot from Caitlyn. We are in a free, capitalistic society that is supposed to create wealth and jobs for as many folks as possible. She has been quite #authentic in the fact that she will make money from this. Authenticity is the new black. We work in marketing and advertising to drive sales. Why I personally and professionally most love this story is what a great example of #360 #media planning for best #marketing #ROI it is. We talk about this a lot and rarely see such great examples of the de-siloing of the funnels ("traditional media", #PR, #social, TRANS-media) @ great timely, storytelling with the specific goal of driving sales. It's also always nice to support a woman when we can!

  7. Craig Mcdaniel from Sweepstakes Today LLC, June 3, 2015 at 6:01 p.m.

    I wonder if Caitlyn is just another one month hit wonder or this story will go away?  Adam, write a follow up in a month or later and see how Caitlyn is doing.

  8. Adam Buckman from MediaPost.com, June 3, 2015 at 6:25 p.m.

    I'm pretty sure, Craig, that the Jenner story has a couple of columns left in it, especially if Caitlyn starts turning up everywhere in the next few weeks.  I think the best test of the public interest will come this summer with the eight-episode reality series on E! that just got a title -- "Call Me Cait."  On that subject, call me curious. -- ABuckman

  9. Adam Buckman from MediaPost.com, June 3, 2015 at 6:27 p.m.

    Oh, and I forgot to say: Thank you for reading. -- AB

  10. Adam Buckman from MediaPost.com, June 3, 2015 at 6:51 p.m.

    Correction: Make that title "I Am Cait," not "Call Me Cait."  And "I Am" curious to see what happens next in the Jenner saga. -- ABuckman 

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