Much Ado About Jay-Z

Jay-Z, president and CEO of Def Jam and Roc-A-Fella Records, has become a universal brand in the past year. And don't think that any of it was by accident either. In fact, it's highly likely that it was a well-planned strategy, focused on creating hype for the hip-hop mogul's return to the rap game. On November 21, he'll release a two-disc deluxe set, "Kingdom Come," his first solo studio album since his retirement in 2003, and he's not relying on YouTube or MySpace, as other music artists have done recently, to garner sales. In fact, just three days before the album ships, Jay-Z plans to board his private jet and hit seven cities to perform 30-minute shows within 24 hours. Cingular is on board to sponsor the spectacle, and MTV will air a 30-minute highlight special once the tour ends.

The tour is just the latest hurrah in a year-long marketing play that has endeared Jay-Z to more than just hip-hop aficionados. Earlier this year, the rap icon called for a consumer boycott of Cristal champagne, a brand he once enthusiastically celebrated in many of his hit songs. But after a Cristal representative distanced his brand from any hip-hop affiliation in an Economist interview, the rapper vowed to remove shout outs to the champagne from earlier songs, never to cite the name again, and he also stopped selling it in his own sports bars.

We eventually realized the plan behind that play when in a recent video for his new song, "Show Me What You Got," the rapper was shown turning down a bottle of Cristal for a bottle of Armand de Brignac, aka "Ace of Spades." Jay-Z denies any stake in the brand, but it has assisted Ace of Spades with breaking into the American market. The move also further signified Jay-Z's influential position in the marketplace.

In another power move, Jay-Z used his part ownership of the New Jersey Nets to further push his personal brand. First he appeared headless in HP spots for "The Computer is Personal Again" campaign, and used his hands to illustrate how he does everything on his HP laptop, from editing new songs to handling his investments to planning logistics for his world tour. He even mentioned, '"the new Frank Gehry plans for my team in Brooklyn," at which point blueprints swimmingly turn into a spinning model for the Nets' new arena, that is planned to open in 2009. The commercial first aired during the NBA finals in June.

Taking the NBA relationship further, he also appears in a new ad campaign for the NBA, riding around Manhattan in the back seat of a limousine discussing rivalry, success, the spotlight, and stardom. There are five of these promotional ads in total, which promote the NBA and TNT, as well as the slogan for Jay-Z's upcoming release. Clever synergy, huh?

Jay-Z's marketing mission became more clear last month when Anheuser-Busch, Inc. announced that the "CEO of Hip-Hop," was being named co-brand director of Budweiser Select. This partnership first came to light during "Monday Night Football," on ESPN in mid-October, when a commercial featuring out takes from Jay-Z's video, "Show Me What You Got," featuring shots of NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. driving Jay-Z around the hills of Monaco in a race against Indy Racing League driver, Danica Patrick. The ad closes with the tagline, "Jay-Z is back, coming Nov. 21."

Anheuser-Busch plans to collaborate with Jay-Z in other TV ads, as well as radio and print campaigns. He's also expected to be an integral part of Bud.TV, an online entertainment site featuring both brand and user generated content.

He's even got a strong public relations arm, as evidenced when his face graced the cover of LIFE on November 3, and also appeared as one of the three covers representing GQ's "Men of the Year" this month.

And just in case opening day sales need a little more muscle behind them, Clear Channel Radio’s Online unit plans a full-length exclusive album premiere, enabling users to listen to it for one week, on demand, before its release. Also, Jay-Z will perform "Show Me What You Got" on the day of the album's release during the American Music Awards, to be broadcast on ABC.

Either Jay-Z's a shrewd business man, or he has a heck of a team behind him. Either way, will his various marketing extensions help him achieve success during a sluggish music economy? (Shhh..I know of at least five people who already have the album in digital format, and they obtained it free of charge.) Will the album even live up to its hype? And what about these brands looking to cash in on Jay-Z's appeal to the youth market — how successful will they be? But what I really want to know is, who's whoring whom?

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