Ryan Reynolds has been named one of Fast Company’s Most Creative People in Business 2020 and this is a profile of his work as a marketing executive who happens to be a movie star as opposed to a movie star who’s really good at marketing. As we have seen, some celebrities have been sh-t at social media even though, you’d think, social media is about famewhoring and, well, most celebrities are famewhores. We’ve known for years now that Ryan Reynolds is excellent at social media, not because he tries to pretend that he isn’t thirsty for attention but because he operates from that fact as a baseline and leans into the comedy of it.
What makes Ryan Reynolds an outlier by Fast Company’s standards is that he’s been able to successfully bridge social media success with legitimate business success by tapping into that magical, often elusive space where they intersect. Social media is marketing. Marketing requires social media excellence. And all of his companies now, from Aviation gin to Mint Mobile to his film production teams, are benefitting from his work in this area – and, as Fast Company posits, this might be where Ryan is showing his best work. Without spending the kind of money that other executives and businesses are spending on the same results or compromising standards. That’s basically an entrepreneurial grand slam.
For Ryan personally though, as a Movie Star, becoming more focused on marketing in other areas of interests, has changed his perspective on how he markets movies, specifically how he promotes them. As we allllll know, celebrities hate promotion. It’s a common complaint – doing interviews is such a pain in the ass, they just want to be able to “art” their “artistry”, and all the sh-t that comes along with it isn’t what they signed up for. See Leonardo DiCaprio and Joaquin Phoenix. Ryan Reynolds concedes he was like this too. Until he realised that promotion too could be a creative space:
“Before Deadpool, I had never looked at promotion as anything other than obligatory,” Reynolds says. “But what I realized was that it can actually be creatively satisfying. And a lot of fun—not just for me, but for the audience.”
That, of course, has a lot to do with the fact that he was so personally invested in Deadpool, but that’s also the point. He was personally invested. And it speaks to what we can all put into our work when we feel empowered by it, when we feel truly involved, when we are able to actually participate. It seems so simple but, for whatever reason, since we’re talking about pop culture and the players in this culture, there’s so much apathy towards promotion and marketing where celebrities are concerned. And for Ryan Reynolds, he’s been able to crank it to another level of engagement because he found where he could contribute, where he could find creative fulfillment.
He brainstorms his promotional materials. He writes or co-writes the material, edits the copy, he has expanded his own job description, making all of that a part of his own work, and he’s SHOWING that work… which is why the audience believes it. That’s why the results have been immediate. So I appreciate that in this Fast Company profile, Ashton Kutcher’s name comes up in comparison.
Because this is how, early on, in the mid-2000s, Ashton Kutcher tried to rebrand himself – as the celebrity tech insider, the ultimate celebrity investor…only… did anyone actually believe he knew what he was talking about? That he was actually part of the innovation?
This is the difference between an Ashton Kutcher and a Ryan Reynolds. Nobody out there is doubting that Ryan Reynolds is coming up with his subversive, witty commercials, upselling strategies, and other promotional pieces. Not just because he’s fronting it, but because nobody else could front it as they’re all so inextricably linked to what we already know of him.
That’s not to say it’s been all perfectly executed. Back in June, Ryan and Blake Lively announced together on Instagram that they’d made a donation to the NAACP Legal Defence Fund in response to the Black Lives Matter protests happening around the world in reaction to the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many others. In my post about it at the time, I wrote that this is a reckoning for so many of us who are not Black and not Indigenous, even those of us who are people of colour, to acknowledge that we’ve been complacent and complicit. And that it was important for white power couples like Ryan and Blake to take a role in modelling for those who may seem themselves in them how they can be part of the change by pointing out their own past mistakes.
In their Instagram messages, Ryan and Blake didn’t specifically cite her romanticisation of the Antebellum period or the fact that they were married on a plantation but in this Fast Company interview, Ryan confronts it head on:
“Soon after protests erupted in May following the killing of George Floyd, Reynolds was forced to grapple with his own complicated personal history. His and Lively’s 2012 wedding took place at Boone Hall, a former plantation in South Carolina. Press coverage at the time focused mostly on the glamour of the event, though some pointed exceptions noted the callousness of holding a celebration in a place where slaves had suffered and died. It wasn’t until 2018 that the story caught on in a significant way, when a tweet Reynolds posted in praise of Black Panther (the first superhero blockbuster featuring a largely African American cast) sparked a viral response accusing him of hypocrisy. The actor is still clearly pained by the hurt the wedding caused, as well as by his own lack of judgment. “It’s something we’ll always be deeply and unreservedly sorry for,” he says. “It’s impossible to reconcile. What we saw at the time was a wedding venue on Pinterest. What we saw after was a place built upon devastating tragedy. Years ago we got married again at home—but shame works in weird ways. A giant f-cking mistake like that can either cause you to shut down or it can reframe things and move you into action. It doesn’t mean you won’t f-ck up again. But repatterning and challenging lifelong social conditioning is a job that doesn’t end.”
Being apologetic and accountable isn’t temporary – and he’s not saying it should be and he’s making that clear. He’s also specifically admitting that they were prioritising what would be a cute and cool wedding venue despite the fact that people were abused and tortured and killed at that place by white supremacists. And the job now, for Ryan and people like me who’ve also made “giant f-cking mistakes”, is to keep “repatterning and challenging [the] lifelong social conditioning” that made this kind of mistake possible. To constantly resist the programming out there that reinforces harmful behaviours and to find a way forward together. For him, that includes an initiative called Maximum Effort, ensuring that going forward, he’s on set with diverse teams, creating opportunities for those from marginalised and underserved communities and making sure that talent is not just compensated fairly but have access to financial equity in those projects so that BIPOC contributions don’t just end up making the status quo even wealthier, more powerful. And he’s certainly in a position to do so – because he’s famous and wealthy, of course, but also because he’s smart. He has proven that he knows how to effectively push a message, and when that message is equality, the potential for him to make a real difference is even bigger.
Click here to read the full Fast Company profile on Ryan Reynolds.