Mercedes Benz was the most rapped-about brand of 2005, with 100 mentions in songs this year, Nike took second with 63 mentions, up from 24 last year, and Cadillac (first in 2004) rounded out the top three with 62 mentions.
Other brands that made the top 10 were Bentley, Rolls Royce, Hennessy, Chevrolet, Louis Vuitton, Cristal and AK-47, according to Agenda, a San Francisco-based pop culture strategy shop that publishes the study, dubbed American Brandstand 2005, now in its third year. Agenda created the tallies by dissecting the lyrics of all 106 songs that made the Billboard top 20 over the last year.
The biggest brand-dropper was rapper 50 Cent, who mentions 17 brands in his songs, followed by Ludacris and The Game, both tied at No. 2 with 13 brand mentions.
Surprises on the list
Surprisingly, Lexus (No. 11 last year) and Gucci (No. 5 last year) – once staples in hip-hop music – failed to snag a single product mention this year, while a few unlikely brands made the list of 1,129 brand mentions, including the George Forman Grill and Listerine. (It’s unlikely that Pfizer, maker of Listerine, was thrilled with the inclusion in the song “Karma” by rap artist Lloyd Banks and Avant that went: “I move fast but at a switch pace, ‘N’ pop in a Listerine strip before you get all up on a b***h face.”)
Tom Julian, a trend analyst with Fallon Worldwide, said that marketers might see the music world as a viable platform to gain brand recognition, but the tone of the brand mentions was critical. “If they would all be of the same negative tone, what would a brand do?” he said.
For Mercedes, the 100 mentions were considered simply a serendipitous brand boost. “It’s all somewhat out of our control, we don’t do anything to push for it,” said Tracy Darchini, a spokeswoman for Mercedes-Benz USA. “We do get excited about it because it speaks to the mystique and the aspirational quality of the brand, but we don’t pay artists to mention us in their songs” and there is “no product placement going on”.
James Lucian, president of Agenda, said that little transparency existed on payments for placements. “I think it is impossible for rap artists anymore to include a luxury brand in a lyric and not think they are going to get one for free,” he added. Lucian pointed to the widely reported 2004 story about rapper Snoop Dogg leaving a voice mail at Chrysler asking for a new 300 sedan after mentioning the brand in a song.
Coincidentally or not, Snoop Dogg earlier this year appeared in an ad for the carmaker playing golf with ex-Chrysler chairman, Lee Iacocca. And, yes, Snoop Dogg got his sedan.
So why haven’t paid placements, surely a safer bet for brands looking to avoid a “negative tone”, gained more traction among marketers? “No one understands yet how to compensate,” Lucian said, adding, “And if your brand starts to get in the Billboard charts, your brand has a life of its own.”
Although a paid model has yet to emerge, some marketers have tried, to varying success, to create one. Earlier this year, McDonald’s Corp hired Lanham, Md.-based entertainment marketing firm Maven Strategies to pay rap artists to create songs naming the fast-food brand’s Big Mac sandwich. Although McDonald’s planned to pay upward of $5 every time a song mentioning Big Mac was played on the radio, so far it has yet to get its song.
No mentions for Big Mac
Moreover, Big Mac failed to even snag a single mention in 2005, based on Agenda’s study. “It should have been done secretly,” Lucian said of the McDonald’s initiative. “They did it to be more authentic with a certain audience, but the problem is, it’s a pretty inauthentic way to go about it.”
Regarding the initiative with Maven Strategies, McDonald’s spokesman, Bill Whitman, said: “We have not yet identified any opportunities that we want to pursue and until we do we are not planning on having any lyrics referencing any products.” When asked whether McDonald’s was still actively pursuing deals with rap artists, Whitman said, “When the right opportunity comes up, absolutely.”
Maven Strategies, however, did land Seagram’s five mentions in 2004 for its gin in rap songs. No major deals have been publicised for any of the top brands mentioned in this year’s list.
Not just happenstance
Andrew Sacks, President of New York-based luxury marketing firm, Agency Sacks, doubts that more brands aren’t paying for the lyrical mentions. “This is not just happening by happenstance,” he insisted, adding, “To be included in pop culture is clearly something that is on the top of any marketer’s strategy and initiative. I think there has to be more back dealing to all of this.”
Sacks further said that he suspected paid lyrics to be a highly guarded secret among marketing and music executives. “You could dig and dig and never find it because it undermines the credibility of it. In hip-hop lingo, the street cred would be gone,” Sacks said, adding, “And if some marketer figured out how to do this, they certainly wouldn’t want to let on to other marketers how to make it happen.”