1986, Madison Square Garden, New York City: The whole crowd take one shoe off and proudly hoist it in the air at the command of the nights MC’s, rap duo Run-DMC, creating a visual intro to their record ‘My Adidas’. This was an early indicator of the influence of hip-hop culture on consumerism and what Steve Stoute would coin ‘a tanning moment’.
Steve Stoute is a former music executive turned marketer, who made his success by ignoring barriers traditionally drawn around demographics and ethnicity, identifying today’s generation “as a generation that grew up listening to music that wasn’t necessarily the music their parents listened to … a generation that doesn’t see through color, but rather through shared cultural experiences”. This is what he identifies as ‘The Tanning of America’, the title of his recently published book which documents the rise and influence of hip-hop/urban culture since the 80s.
Some examples of campaigns developed by Stoute’s marketing firm Translation
“Consumers want to connect, believe and immerse themselves in the experience. They want to see themselves fit into the story”
Although the book provides insight and examples of the US marketplace, the message delivered rings true across the Atlantic, with urban artists achieving huge chart success in the last 12-18 months in particular. Artists such as Tinie Tempah, Tinchy Stryder, Professor Green and Wretch 32 have been busy creating their own scene, sound and style but share a common thread with their US counterparts. As Tinchy’s manager Jack Foster commented in a recent Guardian interview, “rap is aspirational. It’s always been about bettering yourself.” Stoute suggests that brands which successfully convey similar messages of ambition and success will attract people who want to show ‘the world they’re moving forward, that they do have aspirations in life’, tapping into a universal language.
Despite the evidence, there is a noticeable lack of brands looking to take advantage of the influence wielded by rap artists and the appeal of the urban scene in the UK. The only notable success to date is the Lucozade sports campaign featuring Tinie Tempah. This original TV ad quickly received over 350,000 YouTube views and was eventually released as a downloadable single. Tinie Tempah became the first non-athlete endorser of Lucozade, a milestone which can be compared to Jay-Z’s deal with Reebok in 2003. At the time, Jay-Z became the first non-athlete to have a signature athletic footwear collection, which would produce some of the company’s best-selling shoes.
With everything from bottled water ads featuring breakdancing babies to contestants rapping on the X-Factor, it could be the time for the multicultural dimension of thought to be embraced just as it was by the Adidas marketing execs who were in the crowd on that night in 1985.
Will marketers in the UK begin to understand the modern generations shared likes and interests, and will they be brave enough to break from the status quo and embrace this cultural shift?