The Return of Madonna Badger

After enduring unimaginable tragedy, she is back at work at Badger & Winters with a sharpened sense of resolve.

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In Arkansas, she stayed with a friend, Kate Askew, and her husband Jess. Askew is a rare book dealer, and Badger tried doing small projects involving old volumes and antiques. “We were just constantly coming up with crazy ideas and fun things to do,” she said, recalling how she realized one day that she had an ad agency that “I built from the ground up and I’m going to go back there.”

While Badger was down South, Winters kept the business moving forward, knowing she would return. He moved the office to much larger quarters, expanded staff and lined up new business. “We knew there was going to come a moment when she was not only going to want to come back, she was going to come back,” he said. “Our job was to make sure she came back to the healthiest, most vital situation possible.”

Badger said she came to realize that the ability to successfully run a business that sustains people and feeds their families “is pretty massive stuff.” Referring to the spacious offices full of young people, she recalled, “One of the first things that Jim and I really talked about when I first came back [in January] was, how can we be an inspiration to all the people that work here for us?”

Perhaps the big opportunity to answer that question is the fact that Badger & Winters has become the agency of record for Avon, according to the company, and is charged with creating and producing the worldwide campaign. “We selected them because of their deep expertise in understanding the emotional drivers of the beauty and fashion consumer,” said Patricia Perez-Ayala, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Avon. She added that the “team is working closely with us to gain a first-hand understanding of our consumers and representatives.”

The agency has worked for Avon for four years, including the creation of a global design vision for its brochure, which acts as a store and advertising campaign combined.

Winters estimates that 60 percent of the agency’s business is in beauty, including Living Proof, Laura Geller Beauty and continuing with Clairol Natural Instincts at Procter & Gamble. As part of its new global push, the agency is planning to open offices in São Paulo and London. On the fashion-retail-lifestyle side of the equation, the agency picked up the Smart Set in Canada, Godiva and the Donghia fabric and furniture brand.

Beraud, who has worked with the agency while at three companies, described Badger’s key strength as “having tremendous vision and an unparalleled aesthetic.” She also is adept at “disruptive thinking — breaking new ground in mature categories.”

While Beraud was at PepsiCo, Badger created a new concept and packaging for a water product that was “so aspirational it would take the water category to a whole new level.” Beraud pointed out that Winters adds a smart, strategic strength that he demonstrated in her absence. “He provides a steadfastness and is highly strategic and also they share a similar aesthetic,” Beraud said. “He has the operational strength that maybe is not her favorite thing.”

Talking about Badger, Calvin Klein observed, “It’s this rare combination she has — an ability to understand clients’ needs, to think creatively and pull together the team of writers, visual people, graphics people, directors and to be able to target the audience — if it’s on television, or the Internet — to market it.”

Similarly, Vera Wang cited her talent for interpreting a designer’s “voice” as it evolves through a career and “translating that specificity in such an artistic way.” Wang added, “Madonna is one of those people who really had a sense of art and taste and past and present — historically.”

She noted that the ads Badger had done in the early days of Wang’s business exuded a timeless sensuality and sophistication. “It’s not even romance, it was art,” she said.

Winters and Badgers maintain that the beauty industry is going to have to think differently if it is to lure a new generation of users, especially when discussing the Millennials. It starts with getting to know the customer in every phase of her life, Badger said, adding that some companies like Living Proof are trying to break the mold in plumbing individual consumer needs. The industry needs to tell the consumer: “We understand your life, we understand who you are, that your life is a lot bigger than just your skin care.”

She continued, “A lot of it is the idea that they are the creators. When you take out of the equation this idea that we are coming from on high and coming down, saying ‘this is what you need to know,’ the more we as brands are a part of her conversation, a part of her world and understand her world with a single, clear and concise message, then we’re giving her the chance to not only choose us but also create with us.”

It boils down to what Badger calls “this age of empathy,” a concept that resonated last Christmas when she was visiting an orphanage for young girls, aged three to 18, in Thailand. She had given them toys and other gifts that she had salvaged from the detached garage in Connecticut that escaped the fire. All the girls had come from homeless or wretched backgrounds. “I told them what had happened to me, and I said, ‘I’m just like you. I’ve lost everything, you’ve lost everything and here we are.’”

The head of the orphanage asked if they could pray with her. She said yes and bowed her head. “It was very emotional,” Badger recalled. “When I opened my eyes, all 25 of the little girls were all standing around me and they were all praying over me in Thai. That was mind-blowing.”


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