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The Lady Gaga Effect: Pop Star’s Social Media Savvy Helps the MAC AIDS Fund Raise Millions of Bucks

How much can 20 million Facebook fans and eight million-plus Twitter followers help fund-raising efforts? Let’s look at the numbers.

Lady Gaga Viva Glam

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When you’ve got Gaga on your side, it’s easy to raise lots of money. That’s what the MAC AIDS Fund, the philanthropic arm of MAC Cosmetics, discovered during Lady Gaga’s tenure as spokesperson over the past year. And during the next year, MAC hopes that Gaga will take its philanthropic efforts even more.

The MAC AIDS Fund started in 1994, not long after MAC itself was founded. When cofounders Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo–a makeup artist and hairdresser, respectively–saw how the AIDS crisis was affecting industry members during the late 1980s, they created the fund, which gives money to direct service organizations in large North American urban areas that offer support to people living with HIV and AIDS.

The 16-year-old VIVA GLAM campaign sells signature lipsticks and lip glosses and all proceeds go to the MAC AIDS Fund. This is the only national advertising that MAC does.

“The brand was built on strong events, PR, and freestanding store networks,” explains John Demsey, president of Estee Lauder North America and chairman of the MAC AIDS Fund (Estee bought MAC in 1994). “It’s not built on a traditional advertising model. The decision was somewhat organic.”

VIVA GLAM has had over 20 celebrity spokespeople since its inception, including RuPaul, Eve, Cyndi Lauper, and Fergie. But no one has been as successful at rounding up sales as Lady Gaga, who signed on last year. “She came when we were getting ready to refresh our campaign effort. It was a perfect match,” says Demsey. “What I didn’t know, what I didn’t understand was the role that social media was
starting to take relative to word of mouth, building brand awareness, and
driving sales.”

Lady Gaga is a formidable social media presence, with over 20 million Facebook fans and eight million-plus Twitter followers gathered over the past few years (one recent Tweet: “I am Viva Glam today! I’ll be on GOOD MORNING AMERICA at 8:05 to talk about safe sex, glamour, and being Born This Way!”)

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“She became a star of new media at the same time that MAC and VIVA GLAM were featured against that backdrop. It supersized our efforts,” Demsey says.

How much has Gaga helped? Last year, VIVA GLAM raised $34 million–equal to the amount that the MAC AIDS Fund raised in total during its first 10 years as a charitable organization. Demsey is optimistic that the number will continue to grow. His goal: raising $50 million by the beginning of the International AIDS Conference in July 2012.

No matter how long Gaga stays on, MAC will consider social media prowess in selecting future spokespeople. “She took the campaign to a whole other level,” says Demsey.

Follow Fast Company on Twitter. Ariel Schwartz can be reached by email.

About the author

Ariel Schwartz is a Senior Editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine and more.

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