Forbes fully brought hip-hop culture from the streets to Wall Street with the release of its "Hip-Hop Cash Kings" list, highlighting the 20 highest-earning artists.
While the music industry as a whole suffers, hip-hop artists and the culture continue to expand into a multibillion-dollar business as the artists have become brands unto themselves. Whereas 15 years ago a brand buying into hip-hop was taboo, today Fortune 500 companies see the cultural power of the movement and are signing up in droves - Jay-Z and Sean "Diddy" Combs are viewed as corporate pitchmen, and corporations no longer ignore them.
Marketing to a youth-minded culture has never been easy (remember how controversial The Beatles and Elvis Presley once were?), and today, hip-hop artists are endorsing everything from CPGs to insurance and financial services providers.Brands win when working with hip-hop artists by being authentic and not picking and choosing.
Brands have to embrace the culture by using a variety of pitchmen. Some brands have won - Breitling went from being a prestigious Swiss watchmaker known mainly only to watch aficionados to being a hip-hop staple, and Range Rover thrives from this market... while by and large not marketing to it. Conversely, look at Cristal, which alienated the entire hip-hop community in a single interview, as a brand executive implied that rappers embracing the brand could affect its marquee value (couldn't he have just stayed silent as Breitling and Range Rover do?).
Those who are concerned about putting the face of their brand behind rappers need only to look at Nike to see that buying into the culture, instead of the individual, minimizes risk. Picking a random rapper (or athlete) out of a hat and saying, "We get hip-hop," simply does not work. There is too much at stake in putting your entire brand behind an athlete or entertainer.
Following the mistakes of the past, today's brands understand that you can't just dip your toe into the waters of hip-hop to reap the benefit. Brands need to fully immerse themselves in the culture, or it is not organic and ultimately turns off consumers. It would be better for a brand to ignore it entirely than do it incorrectly.
Forbes recognized these rappers on its list as businesses and brand builders unto themselves, and I applaud them for it, as well as the corporations that have been harnessing and reaping the benefits of associating with this culture.
Ronn Torossian is the CEO of 5WPR, a Top 25 Public Relations Agency and has a best-selling PR book“For Immediate Release: Shape Minds, Build Brands, and Deliver Results with Game-Changing Public Relations” an Amazon best selling Public Relations book available for purchase at: http://www.amazon.com/Immediate-Release-Deliver-Game-Changing-Relations/dp/1936661160