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Jay-Z to Luxury Brands: Don’t Bite the Hip-Hop Hand That Feeds You

Posted by Jennifer Sokolowski on November 25, 2010 05:00 PM

Jay-Z has made himself into an entertainment powerhouse on the back of his talent with words. Now he has some choice ones for luxury brands on the powerful influence of hip-hop.

Time recently excerpted a part of the rapper-turned-multimedia-mogul’s new book, Decoded, in which Jay-Z lays it down for luxury brands who are dismissive of their connection with the hip-hop world. He tells the story of a Cristal executive who, when asked by The Economist what he thought about Cristal Champagne’s relationship with hip-hop, said, “What can we do? We can't forbid people from buying it.”

In the book, Jay-Z (originally Shawn Carter) writes: “That was like a slap in the face ... Why not just say thank you and keep it moving? You would think the person who runs the company would be most interested in selling his product, not in criticizing — or accepting criticisms of — the people buying it.” At the time, the hip-hop artist issued a statement saying he would in no way support or promote Cristal ever again.

Hip-hop artists, Jay-Z goes on, have long been unpaid promoters of brands, creating a narrative, cachet and an audience of consumers for products with absolutely no effort on the brands’ part.

With Cristal, for example, he says, “Cristal, before hip-hop, had a nice story attached to it; it was a quality, premium, luxury brand known to connoisseurs. But hip-hop gave it a deeper meaning. Suddenly, Cristal didn't just signify the good life but the good life laced with hip-hop's values: subversive, self-made, audacious, even a little dangerous. The word itself — Cristal — took on a new dimension.”

These ideas pose some interesting question for brands: What if brands like Cristal don’t want to be “dangerous?” Who should have control over a brand’s image: the company or the people who want to buy it? If a new customer segment appears that might alienate the previous core customer base, should a brand just “say thank you and keep it moving?” And if people are buying, which is supposedly the whole point, does it matter?

Jay-Z has certainly been successful with his own personal brand. Other brands might just want to take a listen.

Comments

Dennis Moons Brazil says:

By acknowledging or even using that hip-hop connection in their brand communication they might  get away from their core: luxury, quality, heritage.

It reminds me of a similar story that Burberry faced. Both with hip-hop and hooligans. www.brandchannel.com/features_profile.asp

I don't think that the dangerous 'street' association isn't something luxury brands are looking for.

November 26, 2010 08:10 AM #

Brian Jones United States says:

If a brand is an unspoken promise, then there's a relationship. Relationships can change, like galaxies with numerous stars slowly moving together at the speed of light. Each one contains elements with their own gravity that, together, can influence the outcome of the galaxy's direction: predictable, but uncontrolled.

November 26, 2010 12:40 PM #

Dennis Moons Brazil says:

But unlike galaxies brands have the power to change where there brand goes, who their preferred customers are.

November 26, 2010 12:59 PM #

Nick@Knight says:


If brand managers don't like the brand "conversation" their consumers are having with their brand, they should change the conversation.  Cristal had/has the ability to change the conversation at the expense of losing their new found, profit providing, hype-making hip-hop consumers.  I would agree they did it completely the wrong way but it does make it compelling to see if they succeeded in what they hoped to accomplish. Over the years, have thier "white" sales base covered the loss of the "hip-hop" base?

In the end, the brand "belongs" to the consumers more and more each day. Brand managers are even-less "care takers" of the brand.  At best, they can only hope to manage the discussion.

November 26, 2010 02:02 PM #

tiffany United States says:

I don't know how much Cristal Jay-Z helped sell though. Fact is that the younger audience of hip-hop isn't buying $200 bottles of champagne very often - especially with nightclub bottle service markup that's 2 or 3 times that.

And that's why I call shenanigans on Jay's comments. HE may be able to afford Louis Vuitton, but a lot of hip-hop fans buy it counterfeit.  The people who can afford to buy luxury products already have that brand awareness and don't need hip-hop's name-checking.

November 27, 2010 12:37 PM #

Jania Smith United States says:

Touché Tiffany!

Nick: A brand doesn't belong to consumers esp. given that a company can close up shop over night....Remember what happened on Wall Street? Where is WaMu and Wachovia among other banks from 2008 back?

Clearly, Jay Z is particular about his brand given his drastic change in style in the last few years (from business attire for a 40-year old relative to hip hop gear for the 25 and under) and business associations (Nets owners, HP commercial, Warren Buffett—need I say more?). Likewise, CPG brands are particular about their style and associations.  

I’m quite sure Jay Z would frown upon a generic brand using his name and likeness to upgrade their look. This is simply a case of the shoe being on the other foot. Like most recording artists, Jay-Z still has a lot to learn about business…#1 is that art and business have yet to effectively mix!

November 28, 2010 05:43 AM #

DreWill United States says:

Im with Jayz on this one!!! Way too much free advertising done by Hip Hop and not enough return.....Ice Cube said it best, "I stopped giving props to the Raiders/cuz  Al Davis never paid us" be in control of your $$$$$$ and community!!!!

November 26, 2010 02:29 PM #

Nick@Knight says:


@DreWill - If this is the case and if Jay is such an empowering influence with hip-hop nation, why do artist still drop brands in their songs?  It seems like artists want their cake and eat it too.  Everyday artists young and old latch on to super-premium brands to heighten their own brand and when said brand doesn't recipicate, they cry fowl.  If rappers "adopt" a brand on their own volition, they shouldn't hold it over the brand marketers head and expect something in return.  Instead, rappers should build their own brand without using well established brands as crutches.  In many ways, it's like sampling someone elses music and claiming it as their own.  If Jay and others agree that hip-hop represents the value of "self-made" then don't use someone elses brand as part of your artistry.  Especially if you know you're not going to get anything in return or worse yet, they (insert brand here) don't want to be associated with you.

November 27, 2010 10:51 AM #

ejah Netherlands says:

certainly, if Jay-Z - or any other recognized artist for that reason actually - is having the cash and the wish to buy and/or associate themselfs with an upscale brand, without taking into account that that brand is absolutely out of reach of their own fanbase, than they are fooling their fans and their own history. they might show an angle of aspiration here and - if successful - run the risk of promoting black market rip-offs and THUS harm the upscale brands. their fanbase buying those fakes - on their turn - are lying to themselves and their fellows... NOT GOOD, not for anybody!

Brands are not always wanting to sell just to anybody, nor do they want to associate (or get associated) with just any market segment (or brand); true, brands are becoming more democratic, but it shouldn't be hurried nor forced. Expanding image might mean that the brand is actually opting for a risk of loosing part of its historic customer base - even if they open up their lines and start making products/services available to the - in this case - lower end and below...

November 28, 2010 04:03 PM #

Jania Smith says:

Touché Tiffany!

Nick: A brand doesn't belong to consumers esp. given that a company can close up shop over night....Remember what happened on Wall Street? Where is WaMu and Wachovia among other banks from 2008?

Clearly, Jay Z is particular about his brand given his drastic change in style in the last few years (from business attire for a 40-year old relative to hip hop gear for the 25 and under) and business associations (Nets owners, HP commercial, Warren Buffett—need I say more?). Likewise, CPG brands are particular about their style and associations.  

I’m quite sure Jay Z would frown upon a generic brand using his name and likeness to upgrade their look. This is simply a case of the shoe being on the other foot. Like most recording artists, Jay-Z still has a lot to learn about business…#1 is that art and business have yet to effectively mix!

November 28, 2010 06:10 AM #

A.J. Dobson United States says:

DreWill:  Recording artists esp. hip hop artists are notorious for creating salacious, profane, violent, lyrics. The difference between hip-hop artists (people brands) and product brands (like food, transportation, etc.) is morality and the social impact music has on the masses. Artists often say they are making “grown folks” music yet knowingly and openly market their music to kids and teens to the detriment of that demographic.  Why is it ok to bump and grind and freak young girls on stage (CB and Drake!), cuss like no one is listening, promote drinking everything pink, brown, blue and clear from a glass or bottle, smoking everything except sausage; all while being able to see that there are young people under 21 in the crowd? Could blame the parents for letting their kids attend or security for being lax, but then if the pre-teens and teens don’t go to concerts, somebody won’t be getting PAID!  Hip hop artists are the ones who owe thanks: to parents for tuning out long enough for artists to slip one in on their kids and to brands for only lightly shunning them versus serving a cease and dismiss letter.

If getting paid is the sole motive of an artist, they’ve proven that hands down. Artists will sell sex, drugs, alcohol, overspending, and jail time to the masses without batting an eye. Then “give back” by hosting free concerts filled with more sex, drugs, alcohol and violence through a shot-gun foundation they established.  Granted, many in other industries lack integrity and morality (financial services, media, adult entertainment, etc.). Since this article is about hip-hop, let’s just say you get what you pay for. Brands are not paying for “free advertising” therefore, they are not being accurately represented. Even though what hip hop artists are doing makes lots of dollars, their thought process makes very little “cents”!

November 28, 2010 11:00 AM #

Isha Edwards, Brand Mktg. Consultant United States says:

Since mentions in music are rarely, if ever, formally sponsored, artists should not expect brands to embrace the publicity, the subsequent sales that follow let alone reciprocate by automatically catering to what is an alternate (versus primary and secondary) target audience.  If brands must acknowledge recording artists for each free mention, they may as well acknowledge all brand ambassadors who promote on their behalf—often subliminally. After all, word-of-mouth referrals from a friend or relative do a lot more for brand loyalty than trendy mentions (Run DMC - Adidas 90's mention compared with '10 commercial).

Granted, free mentions can easily yield a spike in sales.  However, what happens when an artist cycles out, has a PR crisis or their fan base matures? Will the mentioned brand be able to grow with the artist, court the same demographic beyond the music or the mention or bounce back from a PR crisis? Will catering to consumers whose tastes are framed by informal mentions alone yield a long-term positive impact for a brand (not for Burberry)? Consider that even though hip-hop is really adult music (given founding date and R content) the fan base ranges from 12 to 40 with a skew toward those 21 under.  What business does Cristal have promoting alcohol consumption to the under aged? Not only is it illegal, it is socially irresponsible (Tiffany makes a valid point regarding price, which directly impacts brand alignment).

Saying so, consider brand alignment. Clearly, artists want to be associated with upscale brands because doing so reflects the character, image, and even the lifestyle they want to portray to the world and their fans.  If brands followed Jay-Z’s rational to gratefully court every customer versus their primary or secondary target audience, they’ll quickly lose sight of their purpose and compromise. Given the ever-growing “rap sheet” of hip-hop artists, luxury brands were smart to distance themselves. How they went about is where Cristal in particular missed the mark…

November 28, 2010 05:28 AM #

Arlen Linnan United States says:

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November 29, 2010 09:18 PM #

luxxygirl United States says:

I think this is a huge problem for luxury brands. Luxury is about exclusivity and it really isn't about diluting the brand and dumbing down to fit hip-hop core values. Some Hip Hop imagery is definitely NOT the image premium luxury brands want to associate itself with. Since when is luxury defined as DANGEROUS? Sorry, Jay Z but that might be YOUR idea of luxury, but it is not the definition premium brands want hanging over their brand. The next point to take note of: Just because a person can afford expensive things does not mean they understand LUXURY- Clearly Jay Z doesn't if he thinks Cristal wants to be known as dangerous? No thanks.

November 30, 2010 11:53 AM #

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