The complex relationship between brands and hip hop

Dimitri has been part of the House of Communication Belgium since November 2018 as a Strategic Planner. Beyond his position as a strategist, he is also responsible for English copy for Serviceplan. This additional role comes from his passion for words and semantics as he is also a wordsmith on his days off.

Long paper
Dimitri has been an active performing artist in the Belgian Hip Hop scene for the past five years and diehard Hip Hop aficionado for as long as he can remember.

Hip Hop Sells

With brands now partnering with a plethora of rap icons , there is no other way to put it; Hip Hop and urban culture overall, have taken the world by storm and it doesn’t look like this storm will quiet down any time soon.

Hip hop driven endorsements are nothing new . With some of the first ones dating back as far as 1986 when the iconic group RUN-DMC got their endorsement deal with Adidas that led to their now classic song: “ My Adidas ”. What’s new,however, is that today, every brand wants a piece of this urban-flavoured pie. This may come as no surprise given that, according to a recent Nielsen study, Hip Hop has surpassed rock and pop to become the most popular music genre for the first time in history.

So, brands around the world beg their appointed ad agencies to make them more relevant to the newer generations and, in turn, agencies come back with ideas that include codes borrowed from the world of Hip Hop to some extent. So far so good. The problem, however, is that brands rarely walk the talk and instead of jumping fully into the sea of Hip Hop, they end up only dipping a toe. Yes, Hip Hop can sometimes be associated with a certain level of rowdiness and disorder that brands are not necessarily keen on embracing... but isn’t this the very essence of Hip Hop that makes people gravitate towards it? In light of the recent interest of the mainstream into Hip Hop, here are 3 things that brands should learn from Hip Hop culture.

Always Catch them off-guard

In an era where the consumption of Hip Hop music has been heavily impacted and dictated by streaming platforms and the ever-decreasing attention span of consumers, artists have to always keep their audience guessing to remain relevant.The same applies to brands. Never rest on your laurels. Always be looking to diversify your brand so that people will constantly be interested to see what you do next. Keep a few cards up your sleeve. One such example is artists of the likes of Beyonce, Drake and Eminem all dropping surprise albums, therefore, skipping the entire promotion and PR tour that is usually associated with such a thing that is heavily relying on ROI. In other words, when your consumers look left, come from the right.

Make Authentic Connections

There is an act that has always been revered in Hip Hop culture which is called a co-sign. A co-sign is when an artist that is often quite famous, acknowledges another artist that is slowly rising and publicly says “hey I like what you do”. This allows the fans of the famous artist to discover the less famous one and opens a new door full of opportunities. A co-sign is the most authentic sort of collaboration. Brands can learn a thing or two here especially when it comes to using influencers. Just like a co-sign, brands should collaborate with people that share similar core values, thus making the connection between the two entities genuine. If you are looking to partner up with an artist, don’t necessarily go for the superstar or the super duper macro influencer. Doing so will make you partner with the biggest artist that has the biggest Instagram following but that doesn’t actually have the biggest cultural impact. Instead, find the person that the superstar is watching and copying, which will probably be a younger up-and-coming artist.

Experience über alles .

I’m pretty sure that in our line of work, you’ve come to hear the term experiential marketing. If not, this refers to a strategy which engages consumers using branded experiences in order to create a memorable positive impact. One typical example is brand activations. In Hip Hop, experience has always been a must.The experience is all about the credibility of the Hip Hop artist which stems from where and how they grew up, and also the immersive quality of the storytelling that Hip Hop artists are doing. Rappers have often turned their storytelling found in their lyrics into story doing by, for instance, installing voting booths outside of their concerts to sign petitions aimed at prison reform or ending police brutality. Instead of downloading a white paper in exchange of our email addresses as we are used to, fans here could download an artist's latest album by engaging in such an experience like signing a petition. So remember, while ads are only seen , experiences are lived, and what is lived is remembered.

Hip Hop is more than just music. It is a culture. Forget that; it is a counterculture, and even as it becomes slowly taken over by the mainstream, it still retains a spirit of something that is to the left of the beaten path. Advertisers all know the expressions “sex sells”. I think we can now start adding with confidence the expression “Hip-Hop sells” to the pantheon of advertising expressions because whether you like it or not it is a fact. If you are part of those that like it and want to join this universe, do so with authenticity, otherwise fans will see through you in a matter of beats per minute.

Dimitri Lemonias
Strategic Planner and EN copywriter
benelux@serviceplan.com
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