Commentary

Hip Hop: The Future of Marketing

A few weeks back I started to tackle the questions of "What would you do if you couldn't use any of the standard forms of advertising?" "What would you do if they didn't exist?" These are not simple questions, but I came across some interesting ways to answer them and I wanted to see what you thought.

Advertising is fundamentally the study of human behavior. Advertising is a means to understanding groups of people, identify what are their characteristics, desires, and needs, and provide them with the tools and services that meet those requirements.

If you break it down to its most basic element, advertising is very much like psychology but coupled with a control element. A psychologist attempts to understand whereas an advertising professional attempts to understand and influence.

If you didn't have the traditional means of advertising to a consumer and you had to find a different means for doing so, then the conclusion I come to, is you'd look to sponsor, or enable, a lifestyle.

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Some means of creating a certain type of lifestyle identify what elements add to that type of lifestyle and then package them in some fashion and offer them to the types of consumers who are interested in adopting that lifestyle. There are examples of this in the market today with tag lines such as "Membership has its privileges" where you use your credit card to enable a lifestyle, but what about taking it one step further?

The best example of this that I could find is in hip-hop. In the '80s and early '90s, hip-hop was a term used to specify a type of music. In the late '90s until today the term is being used for a lifestyle and a cultural change. Hip-hop applies to sports (see the recent articles in ESPN magazine tying hip hop to the NBA), it applies to fashion, and it applies to a method of self-expression. Within the cultural phenomenon of hip hop there are two to three brands that exemplify this type of marketing and prove the model can work.

Arguably, the rise of hip hop started with Def Jam. Def Jam was the label for many early artists and included some of the biggest such as LL Cool J, Run DMC, and The Beastie Boys. These artists all had their very own manners of self-expression and young people emulated what they saw.

Russell Simmons recognized this and over time developed extensions of his brand into such projects as Def Poetry Jam and the clothing label Phat Farm. Similar paths were followed by P. Diddy (Bad Boy Entertainment and Sean John) and Jay-Z (Roc-A-Fella Records, RocaFella Clothing, S. Carter, and Reebok). Nowadays every artist with a hit record has a clothing line, a sneaker, and a label. These folks are driving the development of a culture and truly enabling a lifestyle. They are examples of where advertising is going.

The consumers of these brands are more than happy to wear the labels and spread the word. All of these brands have labels front and center. What's to stop any other brand in sports from doing the same? Nike and Adidas do a great job of getting their logos everywhere, but what if they started a record label? What if they started their own lines of snack bars and sports drinks? What's to stop a gaming company from creating their own line of clothing or fashion accessories?

Enabling a lifestyle is a grand concept, but it's certainly one direction advertising could go. We use terms such as reach, frequency, "surround," and experiential to describe how advertising works in today's market. These examples mentioned above embody all of these elements and more. They are great examples of someone's vision to drive a group of people in a similar direction and to sell more products. I recognize that it's about more than sales, but at the end of the day, each of these efforts are commercial and aimed at selling products.

What do you think of the idea? Do you see anything else that is an example of this trend?

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