The most effective advertisements have always been the ones that don’t look like advertisements. Product placement -- placing brand name products in movies and television shows -- is nothing new and, until about the 1980s, "Big Tobacco" worked tirelessly to place their products in the movies. The movie E.T., while entertaining, was an advertisement for Reese’s Pieces; James Bond movies promote Aston-Martin automobiles and just about every Hollywood movie ever promotes Apple computers. This isn’t because Hollywood producers simply think Apple products are cool -- it’s because Apple writes a check. It’s an important tactic for all marketers to consider, as traditional advertising continues to lose its effectiveness among millennials.
The music industry gets into the act.
Traditionally, musicians made money by selling vinyl records -- but nobody buys vinyl any more and downloads deliver the artist a smaller piece of the pie -- or no pie at all. Music producers and recording artists have changed their tune in regard to commercialism and product placement, music fans have become more accepting of product placement and more recording artists, especially in the hip hop genre, are looking towards placement as an alternative revenue stream. In response, brands are thinking outside the Hollywood box and looking to music videos for placement opportunities.
Before this dramatic change in how music is delivered, product placement in music would have been unthinkable. Hip hop artists have embraced this new model, largely because they only began to emerge onto the scene at a time when musicians could no longer make money selling music directly. Product placement has become acceptable in music, because it had to for the music to survive. “Initially, hip hop artists being associated with brands lent mainstream credibility to what was an emerging musical genre,” says Jarrett Cobbs, Vice President of Strategy of Team Epiphany, a marketing agency that has placed several prominent brands in popular hip hop music videos. “As it has evolved, right now I think artists aren’t making any money off selling records. So essentially what they’re using product placement for is a replacement for working dollars . . . ultimately they’re using that as a marketing budget to get the video done.”
Product placement in the hip hop era.
Kanye West easily adapted to the new rules of the music business by becoming the hip hop king of product placement. In French Montana’s “Figure It Out” video featuring Kanye, we see placements for Beats by Dre, Hyper Energy, Ciroc vodka and KandyPens tobacco vaporizers. Is it possible to get away with four placements in a single video and not look like you’re selling out? It’s hard, but Kanye pulls it off, and new brands looking to get visibility should take a look at how the hip hop artist does it and how those brands make the connection. Production quality, relationship, and context is most important. The placements aren’t gratuitous or too in-your-face -- they are organic to the video and just subtle enough to make people ignore the fact that it really is an advertisement.
“Placements like these work best when the artist respects the fans, and delivers the high level of quality entertainment they expect,” said Graham Gibson, founder of KandyPens. “This type of product placement elevates advertising to an art form, blending it seamlessly with today’s popular music to keep us in touch with our audience.”
French Montana says “It’s all about the moolah” in “No Shopping,” a piece of music obviously meant to sell booze. He manages to turn the Ciroc brand name into a verb, singing “Word to Diddy, we Cirocin’” with a repeating chorus of “Sippin’ on the drank.” According to Cobbs, “People have figured out that it’s not going to ruin your career. Brand and artistry can exist in the same space, and hip hop has done a good job of leading the way in that space.”
But even though French says “It’s all about the moolah” in the song, he knows it’s really all about production value, organic and seamless placement in the context of the music, and having a large audience. The product placement moolah only comes after those fundamentals are in place. Brand Marketers like KandyPens’ Gibson move a lot of product because they don’t ask the artist, “How are you going to sell my product?” Instead, the first question is whether the music video will be memorable, appealing, and stand on its own as a musical production, and whether the brand will resonate with the target audience. Only then does Gibson ask how his product can be incorporated into it.
A perfect example is seen when Kanye is posing next to an airplane during “Figure It Out,” while the camera cuts away ever-so-briefly to a beautiful woman holding a KandyPens vaporizer and blowing smoke out of her mouth. Is it an advertisement? You can’t really tell, and you don’t really care. It’s a seductive scene that adds to the production value of the video, even without the subtle KandyPens placement.
Keeping product placement in a cultural context.
“Brands don’t move culture, people do,” says Cobbs. It’s important for the brand to understand the cultural context of the music. The brand has to understand the space they are entering into most importantly. They have to say, this works for me, I understand culturally where my brand fits in, and they have to be willing to have a personal relationship with the network that helps to create these celebrities to really be effective.”
Cobbs and the Team Epiphany group worked with artist 2 Chainz on a project for their client Hpnotiq liqueur that struck just the right balance between subtlety and over-the-top name dropping. In a groundbreaking model, Team Epiphany actually created and shot the video script that accompanied 2 Chainz’ “Not Invited.” It was a perfect match -- “What are the things about 2 Chainz that really speak to the ethos of Hpnotiq as a brand?” said Cobbs. “He likes to have fun, he likes to party, he’s a little bit irreverent. There is this element of style, and over-the-top luxury that the brand fits into as well. It’s about pairing both the brand and the artist in an ecosystem that works for both of them. With Hpnotiq, that was really effective.”
Getting the placement is all about the relationship.
In 1974, long before product placement in music became acceptable, Queen’s “Killer Queen” opened with “She keeps her Moet et Chandon / In her pretty cabinet / ‘Let them eat cake’ she says / Just like Marie Antoinette.” It’s unlikely this was a paid deal -- rather, the Moet mention was an organic artistic construct, meant to reinforce the style of that mysterious woman and brands worried about budget should keep this in mind and spend time on developing relationships, rather than just writing checks. This continues to be true in hip hop music video, and for the marketer, it may actually be less about the moolah, and more about building relationships with the artists and understanding their audience.