NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” recently announced that it would reduce the number of commercials by 30 percent, replacing it with new opportunities for advertisers to create branded content. SNL is not alone in this strategy, especially as younger viewers respond less to traditional print and broadcast advertising and marketers are scrambling to figure out what works – and marketers are coming to the conclusion that branded content and product placement is going to be far more important than blockbuster television commercials.
While product placement in television and the movies is certainly nothing new, marketers of luxury brands are now finding a new home in music videos – something that would have been unthinkable until just recently. Music video product placement – particularly within the hip hop genre – has only recently become acceptable, since hip hop started to emerge only as musicians started struggling to find new revenue models to replace traditional record sales that used to drive the industry.
“Artists aren’t making any money off of selling records,” said Jarrett Cobbs, Vice President of Strategy at Team Epiphany, a New York marketing agency that develops product placement opportunities for some of the most prominent hip hop artists. “And initially, hip hop artists being associated with brands lent mainstream credibility to what was an emerging musical genre.”
Placement is often subtle. In French Montana’s “Figure It Out” with Kanye West, visuals of four separate brands (Beats by Dre, Hyper Energy, Ciroc vodka, and KandyPens tobacco vaporizers) are evident, but blends seamlessly with the other imagery, with each placement fitting into the context of the overall production. “Our work with hip hop artists has been one of our most successful marketing strategies,” said Graham Gibson, founder of KandyPens. “What we’ve found is that unlike traditional print and broadcast, meaningful product placement starts with understanding the context of the placement, the culture of the artist and fans, and being part of a two-way dialog instead of simply blasting a commercial at people.” French’s subtle approach includes the imagery and distinct presence of each brand in the video presentation, but not the brand name callout in the lyrics, underscoring the sentiment that while the brand placement is an essential part of this industry today, still, the artistry trumps the commercial.
“It’s going to take a savvy brand marketer to get the most out of a product placement, particularly in a hip hop video,” said Cobbs. “It’s going to take an artist knowing what the right product is for them, rather than just saying, ‘hey, I’ll take the money because I need to get the video done.’ There’s almost a perfect storm of things that have to happen.”
The tight partnerships that now exist between artist and brand is seen in Team Epiphany’s groundbreaking work on 2 Chainz’ music video, “Not Invited,” which strikes the perfect balance. The video features a stunning backdrop and repeated visuals of Team Epiphany’s client, Hpnotiq liqueur. A first in the industry, Team Epiphany created and shot the entire script to accompany 2 Chainz’ music.
One of the most aggressive brands in hip hop product placement is of course Ciroc vodka, owned by hip hop artist Sean “Diddy” Combs, who has led the way in brand marketing in the hip hop genre. “The Ciroc model works, because Diddy is a part of it,” said Cobbs. “And because there are several other high profile celebrities that are championing the brand, and it’s happening so often.” Brand presence of the liquor brand is present in an impressive number of videos from different hip hop artists, a feat perhaps more easily accomplished owing to Diddy’s standing and respect in the community.
The partnership aspect of product placement in hip hop is being pursued aggressively by Gibson at KandyPens. Though Gibson doesn’t have the same street cred as Diddy, he has pursued the same strategy of blanketing the market, and with great success. KandyPens vaping devices are seen, in addition to videos from French Montana and Kanye West, in several of Young Thug’s and DJ Khaled’s videos, and enjoy a prominent logo-facing placement with both product and a branded baseball cap worn by some of the entourage in Boogz Boogetz’s “Bodega.”
Marketers today will have to look beyond Madison Avenue-style print and broadcast ads to gain brand presence, and the savviest of them are now looking to the example set by Diddy and other hip hop artists who see placements as a creative partnership.