Drake Inc. – The Intersection of Brand Marketing and Hip/Hop

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This post originally appeared on the blog of Treble.fm (NYC music startup) on June 6th 2016)

· Drake releases Views on 4/29

· Fans listen to Views 572 million times in the US alone in less than four weeks shattering every streaming record ever set and yet….

· The ALBUM IS NOT. THAT. GOOD (subjectively speaking….but a bit more on this later)

But what IS that good, is Drake’s ability to blur the line between marketing and product. With Views, the propaganda sang louder and sweeter than the music itself and we all happily danced along.

First, how did Drake market this album?

He Teased Us

Slowly tease your hand, incite some mystery, leave them wondering what else is there, but never reveal your full deck of cards until you’re ready, or else they’ll lose interest. Am I just describing what dating is like? Yes, but it’s a double entendre for the cat & mouse marketing mix Drake has become known for. There was the mysterious 6 God billboard released in Toronto last November. In January, the Instagram by his producer 40, featuring a file folder called Views on 40’s computer had the internet ablaze. Releasing a song called Summer Sixteen in the middle of February, only to reveal his Summer Sixteen tour for the Summer and early Fall of 2016 (oh, that makes sense now) right after the release of Views. That’s foresight. The only person better than Drake at this sort of thing? Banksy.

6 God Billboard promoting Drake’s Views album

He Partnered Up

You are who you spend time with. You are what you stand behind. This is largely how perception is shaped, especially at the celebrity level. Just ask Taylor Swift. But Drake knows this as much as Taylor does. Drake’s major play was linking up with Future for the What a Time to Be Alive mixtape right as Future was hitting his stride as the apex of cool, new & street credible in the hip-hop industry. And in the process, he inked a deal with Nike, made the song Jumpman and put the Jordan brand on his back for a few months. And if there’s one brand that has ULTIMATE equity in the circles Drake plays in, it’s Jordan.

But Drake understands micro-alignments as well, not just the major chess moves. He befriended the coolest player in the NFL, Odell Beckham Jr., and had him live with him during the offseason (YouTube video included). He mentioned Draymond Green, a trendy pick for the NBA player it’s cool to get behind these days (before this incident at least), on the Summer Sixteen song and Draymond started getting asked about the mention by the NBA press! Don’t forget he also sits courtside at every Raptors home playoff game, “hosted” the All-Star game in Toronto and was on the cover of Slam magazine….

Actual cover of SLAM magazine this past April

He Embraced Tech

There’s an article in the NY Times which brilliantly describes how Drake knowingly goofed his way into the internet airwaves of our meme driven online universe with his Hotline Bling video. The TL;DR version of the analysis is that Drake made a video for Hotline Bling, dressed sort of funny, danced really funny and the internet lost their mind over the whole-thing and Drake knew it would play out that way. Drake used the same principles for his album cover, which he released days before the album debuted. The cover, which features a very tiny Drake sitting atop the CN building in Toronto, became an aesthetic other brands and media companies used to align themselves with the moment of the Views album debut.

Michigan Head Football Coach, Jim Harbaugh, perched atop The Big House in an Instagram post by UM Athletics

But those are just his ad hoc internet stunts. The day Views came out, he bought a custom Snapchat filter with Apple Music which let you customize your selfies with Views propaganda. I gave into this. Obviously. And speaking of Apple, it’s no coincidence that Apple released a commercial with Taylor Swift running and singing along to Jumpman a few weeks before the Views release on iTunes. Apple as we know has exclusive rights to sell the album. Bada bing, bada boom. Microsoft, can we invest in a Drake sponsorship please?

So the marketing got us. But what about the album?

I’ll let the music bloggers do their job here and I’ll stick to the marketing analysis, but, my quick-turn thoughts are this…

It was nothing particularly special, the lyrical content was a little shallow, Drake loves the Cheesecake Factory and there were a few good songs which we will all continue to listen to for the next few months.

If you’re interested, the best reviews I’ve seen of the album which elaborate on the above sentiment are expressed in this article by Rolling Stone and this YouTube video by professional rap coach and friend Drew Morisey.

So, how did he get away with this and what did we learn here as marketers?

He has a brand to fall back on.

This is why brand building and reputation is so important….to be able to take risks, miss and still get away with it. That’s why no Google failure puts them on the chopping block. The Drake brand has mass appeal across gender and race. He has consistently produced chart topping hits we all know the words to. He has over 80M followers across social. He turned a spontaneous diss track into a hit. He has the license to build up an idea, perhaps fall a bit short on the execution and still end up benefiting. In this case, immensely.

He identified windows of catchiness.

Views. Jumpman. The six. Prayer hands. OVO. Started from the bottom. Now we here.

Drake has conjured an entire world of surface level sayings and symbols he relentlessly ministers in our direction that sticks and weaves into our cultural fabric. The key to being catchy as a marketer is seeing an opening and running full force through that opening without any hesitation or fear. Identify a quirk, a spin, an angle, a nuance about your product. Take pride in it. And gently test it out to see how others react. When that spark is there with your audience, then you’re on to something. Then you can pull something fun off. And once you’re there, be fearless in your dedication to your message.

He stayed true to his bread and butter.

Even though Views the album was underwhelming, Drake did deliver on the basics we’ve come to know and love him for. With One Dance he gives us the spicy dance track, with Grammys he gives us the heavy bass, with Too Good he gives us another Drake/Rihanna classic. These redemptive qualities give him the cushioning to aggressively promote his album, while keeping his base happy, without taking musical risks into new sounds and stylings. So if you’re marketing a product feature update let’s say, make sure your foundational product elements still deliver on the customer promise you originally established before taking marketing risks.

The marketing was treated AS IF IT WAS the product itself.

In technology, the way products become self-serving marketing engines is via the creation of feedback loops which engage users, leaving us longing for more (think: the feeling of watching the likes pile in after posting an Instagram). This is part of “the product is the marketing” theory. But what if we really embraced the inverse, so that the marketing is the product. If we are so audacious as marketers that we actually perceive the marketing as the product, our tactics and theatrics to stimulate customer reaction becomes part of the greater product itself. And in doing so, we can convince our audience that the actual product is better than it really is. Or maybe it really is that good! See what I did there? I just convinced myself!

What a time…to be alive,

SK

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