Mariah Carey declared “I came to have a party/open up the Bacardi” in her R&B/dance single “It’s Like That.”
Songstress Gwen Stefani proclaimed “Clean out Vivienne Westwood/in my Galliano gown” in her song “Rich Girl.”
And Fergie of the Black Eyed Peas bragged “They buy me all these icy’s/ Dolce and Gabbana/Fendi and Madonna” in the single “My Humps.”
Although informal product promotion in music is nothing new — in the 1960s, The Beach Boys lauded the Ford Thunderbird in their song “Fun, Fun, Fun” — it has exploded in the last couple of years.
According to an “American Brandstand” study by San Francisco-based pop-culture strategy firm Agenda Inc., music artists gave more than 1,000 shout-outs to some of the world’s largest and most recognizable brands from Mercedes-Benz to Louis Vuitton in 2005.
Lucian James, president of Agenda, says music can make or break a brand.
“Tommy Hilfiger grew to a $1 billion company with the aid of hip-hop,” he says. “Hip-hop culture has become the gatekeeper to pop culture. And brands are a key part of pop culture . . . Teenagers who are growing up now have been marketed to since they were born. They know all about brands. High school girls know about Gucci. Hip-hop culture is now essentially the same as youth culture, it’s the best route to a global mainstream audience.”
While some artists are paid to feature a product in their music, James says most aren’t compensated: “They mention products because it’s a brand they use or they use it as a way to show upscale, luxury lifestyle.”
When Busta Rhymes and Diddy (then Puff Daddy) sang “Pass the Courvoisier” in 2002, sales of the cognac brand reportedly jumped 20 percent, James notes. “But Courvoisier says there was no deal prior.”
And things can get downright shameless.
“In 2004, Petey Pablo gave the most obvious shout-out that we’ve heard so far,” James says, referring to Pablo’s 2004 hip-hop hit “Freeka-Leek,” with the lyrics: “Now I got to give a shoutout to Seagrams Gin/’Cause I’m drinkin’ it and they paying me for it.’ ”
Although Mercedes-Benz scored the No. 1 spot with 100 mentions in Agenda’s study, Kassim Dawson, whose title is emerged market’s lead at Mercedes-Benz, stresses that the brand doesn’t pay for product placement.
“I think that says a lot about how pop culture views us,” he says. “It shows us as a brand that a lot of people aspire to — a brand that these successful artists use as a symbol for their success. And Mercedes-Benz is a status symbol. If you look at the way pop culture has gone with the rapid growth of the hip-hop culture, they latch onto luxury items, and one of those items is a vehicle. What vehicle does that better than Mercedes-Benz?”
WHERE WILL IT END?
James says that artists won’t risk their credibility for a product that doesn’t make sense for them to be singing about.
“If Missy Elliott starts rapping about the excellent customer service at Sprint Wireless, her audience is going to be fairly suspicious,” he says. “In the end it comes down to whether it is a good record. When Prince sang ‘Little Red Corvette,’ I don’t remember people being concerned that he had sold out.
“Right now, artists are typically name-dropping brands, but it will be interesting to see what happens when an artist criticizes a brand.”