Street Marketing (Hip Hop as a Marketing Tool)- Offensive, Ingenious, or the Future By: William A. Wooten, Esq. Hip Hop, as a musical, cultural, and social phenomena, began in the mid 1970s on the streets of New York City. Hip Hop started as an inexpensive way to bring people together and have a good time in a poverty stricken social underbelly. Disc jockeys (as they would later be called) creatively used two record players to simultaneously create a new sound while directing people to sing and dance to the music coming from the loud speakers. The phenomena spread like wildfire when the African-American community took this new sound from the streets to the clubs and discos of New York City. The new cultural movement included other rebellious outlets like graffiti, break dancing, and urban clothing wear. The hip hop lifestyle was born out of despair with a rebellious swagger, a sense of competition, and a need to hustle to survive. Fast-forwarding thirty-five years later, hip hop has seeped into many facets of everyday life. Whether you slip up and call someone a dogg, tune into your top 40 radio station, or watch a McDonald’s commercial, it is hard to deny that hip hop has become a major marketing force. Hip Hop and Rhythm and Blues (R & B) music sell more albums than rock and roll. Hip Hop entertainers clothing lines have annual sales in the millions, and a product mention in a hit song will increase a company’s bottom line – see liquor’s Courvoisier, Crystal, or Hpnotiq, Nike’s Air Force Ones, or Cadillac’s Escalade. Hip Hop music, lifestyle, and its related products are some of the fastest growing exports of our country while new hip hop scenes are flourishing in France, Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, Australia, Eastern European countries, and any country where minorities or youth feel repressed, socially hindered, or simply enjoy a fun beat. Recently, Snoop Dogg promoted Nokia with a string of commercials and theme song for the BCS National Championship College Football Game (which brought forth a letter from the president of the NCAA discouraging Nokia’s choice of entertainment), a rapper (50 Cent) who reveals in the fact that he has been shot nine times was 2004’s most successful artist, and every performer (Nelly, Puff Daddy, Janet Jackson, and Kid Rock) at the Super Bowl has roots in Hip Hop. Americans (especially the youth) demand Hip Hop as their favorite form of entertainment, and the NFL and NCAA are happy to oblige for higher ratings but accordingly act all “high and mighty” the morning after as if they didn’t mean for anything “hip hop-related” to happen. These conservative, supposedly family-driven companies want the best of both worlds. They get to partake in the steamy one night stand and take advantage of the moment (to the tune of higher ratings and in return, higher advertising sales) but don’t have to wake up in bed with any consequences the next morning because it wasn’t their fault. Wake up, Corporate America, Hip Hop of the 90’s and 2000’s is to the American Youth what rock and roll of the 60’s and 70’s is to the Vietnam generation. The Hip Hop generation will have the same influence over the next twenty-five years as rock and roll did on the Vietnam generation the past twenty-five years. Hip Hop is the future- don’t be sorry for trying to connect with the youth of America, just “Keep it Real.” Embrace the movement, study it, try to understand and respect it, and find a way to use it to benefit your company and the culture. As they say in hip hop lingo, “Don’t hate, participate.” People have always had a love affair with the bad guy or a lifestyle that is unattainable. The media has exploited this quality for centuries by always leading with wars, murders, and other gory occurrences for higher ratings. How else can you explain the media’s infatuation with the mafia? We glorify, follow, and learn about mafia-related gangsters, killers, criminals, and their subsequent lifestyle as if it is a lifestyle we wish we could live. The Godfather trilogy and the HBO show “The Sopranos” are recent testaments of mafia-based entertainment that is highly successful. Gangsters and their mafia lifestyle, like thugs and their hip hop lifestyle, portrays a world where most of us will never be a part of due to our moral, religious, or rational beliefs. However, we are still enamored by their audacity, power, and craziness and somehow cannot stop our minds and wallets from investing in their stories. The media takes the profitable and logical next move by giving us a glimpse of what we want. We eagerly watch, discuss, condemn, and wonder. Hip Hop and celebrity advertising have spawned a new form of marketing called “street marketing” (the name was also mentioned by Tom Brokaw of NBC). Numerous celebrity-owned and endorsed products have swamped the market and been successful due to their catchy/ sometimes controversial-named products and the star power of their owners/ endorsers. Due to modern media’s lack of knowledge of the urban market and infatuation with celebrities, almost every newspaper, radio show, magazine, and talk show will mention, debate, and create a buzz for these products in one way, shape, or form. Especially the conservative media, such as Bill O’Reilly or Rush Limbaugh, who constantly mention the product while creating more consumer knowledge, interest, and demand. These mentions, debates, pictures, etc. are worth millions of dollars of advertising for each controversial product. The constant media presence surrounding a celebrity adds premium marketing and value to an endorsement/ ownership. A controversial named product/ advertisement will grant abundant free publicity to a product; numerous other successful celebrity businessmen, such as Howard Stern and Hugh Heffner, built their companies off shock value. These products are usually consumer-driven; even if an older distributor or retailer doesn’t understand the appeal they understand money and that consumers want and are willing to spend money on these products in large quantities. A Hip Hop connection and a valid street marketing plan will lead to some negative publicity, but as the cliché goes, “ Any publicity is good publicity,” and one can see that, “Free PR will take you really far.” Street Marketing is the future of urban products and since the urban market is constantly growing with a young consumer base, this concept will be the future of business marketing. As long as the mainstream media continues to misunderstand and revile hip hop culture, hip hop/ celebrity-based products will continue to flourish and find success without needing large marketing budgets, investment capital, or the best distributors. Companies such as McDonalds who embrace and respect hip hop will continue to find success while big businesses such as Nokia (Snoop Dogg and the Sugar Bowl fiasco), Pepsi (the exchanging of Ludacris for The Osbournes), and the NFL (Janet Jackson, Kid rock situation) will find a harsh backlash from Hip Hop culture as they fail to keep it real, accept what they pay for, and play both sides fairly.
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