LAWL, what will they think of next?
By Maegan Carberry
Published April 1, 2005
Pass the Courvoisier--and a Big Mac.
Hip-hop has been known to holla at its favorite luxury beverages, jewels and rides in song lyrics the way Busta Rhymes did in his 2001 "Courvoisier" hit, but now McDonald's is trying to add its signature sandwich to the ranks of high-roller status symbols.
The burger giant is looking into recruiting artists to write the Big Mac into their lyrics, McDonald's spokeswoman Lisa Howard told RedEye, confirming that the company has partnered with the same marketing company that successfully positioned Seagram's gin in songs such as Petey Pablo's "Freek-A-Leek."
McDonald's executives said that this summer, the company is looking to promote the Big Mac--one of the fast-food chain's most popular sandwiches among men and women in the 18-to-34 set--in new and innovative ways.
"Product placement with hip-hop artists is one of many things that we are looking at to promote Big Mac," said one executive with knowledge of the company's plans. Concert promotions and product giveaways are also options, he said.
McDonald's does not have agreements with any specific artists, Howard said. "It's really more of a concept right now." Representatives from Maryland-based marketing firm Maven Strategies would not comment on the work they are doing for McDonald's.
Cheryl Berman, chairman and chief creative officer of Chicago-based Leo Burnett USA, said she has talked with McDonald's, an agency client, about their idea to pursue Big Mac references in songs. She believes that as long as the product's insertion seems natural in the song, it could be an effective way to advertise.
Hip-hop listeners are no strangers to brand shout-outs. In 2004, 40 percent of the songs that landed on Billboard's top 20 lists mentioned brands such as Cadillac, Hennessy and Gucci, according to Agenda Inc., a San Francisco-based brand strategy company that tracks product mentions in songs. The only non-hip-hop song to mention a product was Jessica Simpson's "With You," which references Levi's jeans.
The number of mentions in hip-hop songs can be attributed to the genre's major players, many of whom also are entrepreneurs, said Lucian James, Agenda's president.
"When Run-DMC sang 'My Adidas,' Russell Simmons made sure their marketing people were there to see it," James said. "There's always been an interest, but now it's becoming a little more strategic. Hip-hop has become very commercial. They know the price of what they bring to the table."
Simmons denied that he has ever produced music with the intent of marketing a product, but he told RedEye that hip-hop is the best brand-building outlet there is and that companies often try to associate themselves with the genre.
But publicity about the McDonald's effort might hurt its success, Simmons said.
"Rap is full of integrity," he said. "They are people who came out of struggle, and if they pick a luxury product to endorse, they are going to do it because they believe in it. Someone who loves McDonald's may now feel uncomfortable. He'd look like a sellout. [McDonald's] should have gone to them privately."
Still, Simmons said, McDonald's has the right idea. "Rappers decide if Coke or Pepsi is hot," he said. "They decide if the Rolls or the Maybach is hot."
Chicago's own Kanye West and Twista have had their share of determining what's hot. The rappers led the name-dropping pack in 2004, Agenda's James said.
West mentioned 16 brands, from Mercedes to Geico Insurance, in four of his Billboard top 20 hits, while Twista slipped 15 references to the likes of Apple Bottom jeans and Range Rovers into three of his songs.
Representatives for each of the rappers said that neither Kanye nor Twista has been contacted regarding a McDonald's Big Mac mention deal.
Twista has benefited in the past from pimping various brands in his songs.
His manager, Rawle Stewart, said that companies such as Rocawear and Seagram's Gin have given the rapper free clothes and alcohol after being mentioned in his songs. But Twista has never been paid to mention a brand, Stewart said.
It is not uncommon, Stewart said, for rappers to approach brands they have mentioned about sponsorships or future payment after the songs have been written and released. It doesn't always work, he said.
"They're not going to spend money on something that's already out there," he said.
Stewart said he does not believe that receiving compensation for lyrics is hurtful to a rapper's integrity as long as the rapper truly uses and believes in the product.
"Fans would be disappointed if Twista was rapping about going to a club in a car with big rims and meeting girls and suddenly he mentioned a Big Mac," Stewart said. "It just doesn't fit.
"Mentioning alcohol fits, though. Mentioning Cadillac fits."
Some, however, say that product-placement deals do not reflect poorly on an artist.
Larry Khan, a marketing executive at Jive Records, said the public is very comfortable with this kind of promotion. No Jive recording artists have been approached by McDonald's, he added.
"People look at an artist who does this and say, 'He can get McDonald's money. That's dope,' " Khan said. "If anything, it helps them."--kathryn masterson and delroy alexander contributed.