Posted by Jennifer Sokolowsky 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.