3 ways Jay-Z proves: Culture is bankable

Image credit: @UndergroundNYC/Instagram

Culture is a fascinating subject! For one, it’s intangible and two, it’s open to vastly different views and interpretations. You know how we wear different glasses to look at the same situation. Perception.

Jay-Z has direct experiences which taught him just how profitable culture can be. Peruse through them to learn a thing or three:

Changing bottles to that gold shit!

By and large, rappers are the sort of musicians who, when they like them, tag branded products in their songs. Hova happened to like Cristal champaigne and he mentioned it in his songs and shown it on music videos. That was all soon to stop, though.

A journalist from the The Economist asked Frederic Rouzaud (MD of the company that produces Cristal) whether their brand was hurt by its association with the bling lifestyle. To which he replied: That’s a good question, but what can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it. The Economist then placed the quote under the title, “Unwelcome attention”.

Knowing his influence, Jigga publicly changed preferences; released a statement saying he’d no longer consume or serve it in his clubs. He started endorsing Ace of Spades and that move had tremendous impact on Cristal’s sales and popularity.

And being one to document his experiences: I used to drink Cristal but ’em fuckers’ racist, so I switched gold bottles on to that Spades shit!

Thank God Iceberg didn’t bite

“In the late ’90s, I was wearing a lot of clothes from Iceberg — the European sportswear designer. After a while, I’d look out into the audience during my concerts and I’d see hundreds of people rocking Iceberg knits”, wrote Jay-Z in his book, Decoded.

At the back of this, Dame Dash (his business partner then), set up a meeting with the company’s excutives aiming to land an endorsement deal. They weren’t on the same page, Iceberg offered them free clothes while Jay and Dame wanted millions of dollars (and to use one of their private jets) for influencing their sales.

That meeting’s failure prompted them to start Rocawear. In a few ways, Iceberg did them a favour, because then they started their own brand which, according to Jay-Z, brings in $1 billion a year in revenue.

Reebok: The S. Carter

You might remember how often Jay-Z used wear his favourite pair of sneakers — Nike Jordan Airforce 1. He simply liked them. Not surprisingly, his fans followed suit and they bought them in droves.

To Steve Stoute’s dismay (a marketing talisman based in New York), no one at Nike picked this trend up. Or, they just didn’t care. Needless to say, they never levaraged on that critical cultural moment to advance the company.

Steve calls himself a Cultural Translator to blue chip companies. Having worked in the music business, he translates Hip Hop phenomena to his clients. At the time, one of them was Reebok. He struck up an idea of Jay-Z branded Reebok sneakers and he convinced him of the opportunity, though it was a difficult task.

Sales, worth billions of dollars, were swayed in Reebok’s direction when the S. Dots dropped. As he’d aimed, Jigga got richer off the culture he helped shape and the company’s financial standing skyrocketed dramatically, too.

I witness how communications and marketing often go awry when corporate businesses decide to jump on cultural phenomena. For a simple reason: they’re not adequately informed. I always walk past media billboards — potentially worth millions — that skew a culture’s reality. I’m often left wondering: Who wrote this copy? This is not how we speak Tsotsi taal in the townships we live.

A word of advice to corporate companies and marketing executives: Culture is bankable. It’s big business; precisely because how people choose to live, work, talk, dress, et cetera, is a matter of culture.

Although culture is everywhere around us, it needs to de decoded correctly and communicated with incredible skill for your messages to stick and have impact.

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