Web Smith recently published that Hip-Hop influence on fashion is destroying luxury brands. The constant name-throwing of popular labels such as Yves Saint Laurent and Maybach have led to unfavorable marketing and sales results, forcing companies to either re-brand or shelve their product lines.
“With the exception of artsy, venturing rappers like Shawn Carter or Kanye West, who average between $30 and $100 million per year, brands seem to have a problem with hip hop’s enthusiastic adoption,” Web Smith wrote. After Atlanta rapper 2 Chainz bragged about his YSL belt buckle in “No Lie,” YSL’s management decided to drop their “easily mentionable abbreviation” and adopt Saint Laurent Paris instead. “By my estimation, it is to send a signal to artists who throw the name around playfully. This distances the brand from hip hop but it also distances the brand from caricature.”
The highly articulate post outlines the continuing “downturn that Hip Hop has played in consumer marketing,” including speculation that Hip Hop’s un-fluence, if you will, is behind the souring of the Mercedes Benz Maybach. He concludes that, above everything, Hip Hop’s influence is not only negative, but dying. YSL’s rebrand is fiercely indicative of things to come, as nobody wants to be associated with the Hip Hop community and any members of its demographic, or it’s “young, hopeful artists who are well-intentioned but macroeconomically naive (or otherwise ignorant of the larger economic picture) [as it relates] to their actions as popular influencers.”
Debunking Myths re: Hip Hop Influence on Luxury Brands
So Hip Hop marketing is washed up?
Nobody, I mean, nobody, wants their luxury brand to interact with Hip Hop culture?
I strongly beg to differ.
I wouldn’t say that hip-hop’s influence is waning in and of itself. There are a few things going on:
1. Street Rappers + Affluent Dreams = Luxury Brand Nightmares
2 Chainz’s frequently discusses his love for YSL. Rick Ross loved Maybachs so much he hijacked the name for his record label. So now, because these two dudes – one who weaves pure urbanized fiction based off his former conversations with inmates during his days as a CO - and do. not. make. me. go there on the fact that his name is a blatant hijack of a real street hustler – destroyed Hip Hop influence for everyone? Nope, not even.
First off, I understand why YSL would run for the hills with repeated marketing from a rapper who boasts about drug dealing and slanging. And I understand why people want to blame Ricky Rozay (*insert a fleur-de-lis eyeroll for that nickname*) for the ominous and untimely death of the $350,000 Maybach. Both these artists influence a demographic that glorifies the questionable lifestyle associated with street life. Who the f*ck wants to openly admit they want to attract “blood money”?
Associate those same luxury brands with a less violent artist – say Lupe Fiasco or Beyonce – and watch them brands snuggle up on these Hip Hop influencers like a cuddle buddy on a cold night. Lupe doesn’t push the drug game or streets to his fans and he’s upwards on the preppy yet casual side, an ideal blend for YSL aka SLP. Beyonce on the other hand, well, she has Maybach money herself, and she probably won’t drop a name unless she purchased it or got paid for it on the low.
2. Certain Hip Hop Influence Destroys the Brand Story
When you’re building a brand, you’re selling a story. Part of that story’s development is the lifestyle and values of that brand, which linger in the backdrop and are subliminally communicated to your audience.
Mercedes created their luxury vehicles for the “legitimate” working elite and their employees who “work hard” to afford such prestige. If 95% of your audience is white, affluent and regularly employed and/or business owners with a high level of disposable income who can travel wherever they want and mingle with nearly whomever they want – and then suddenly your audience is flooded with nods from a largely assumed black poverty stricken and working class audience that glamorizes the idea of breaking the law to achieve the same level of financial success, then of course there’s a problem. In such an instance, it’s a damn culture clash and embracing the new crowd can mean a loss of brand loyalty from your original demographic, who has a long-term bread-and-butter relationship with you.
YSL – and any affluent brand – wouldn’t be so quick to evade the influence of Hip Hop on their popularity if more commercially-acceptable names that had crossover appeal were throwing their brand around. Shawn Carter realistically can brand the level of hip-hop affluence needed to make respectable sales for the brand without disturbing it. So can Kanye West, B.O.B., Nicki Minaj, and everyone’s favorite crossover Drake (or Wheelchair Jimmy, because
I don’t nobody wants to let that go.)
Furthermore, highly affluent luxury brands would probably do well to include “legitimately” affluent faces of hip-hop celebrities in their branding – but that requires investment, money, and *gasp* actual paid and strategic sponsorship. Since they don’t want to do that, they’ll ignore cues that their brand could use a small campaign tailored to the responsive Hip Hop community. Of course, they’ll accept the cash flowing in from a poverty-stricken subcultural audience, one who’s so interested in displaying the small level of wealth they may or may not have acquired that they’ll emulate and shop wherever their favorite artist drops a verse on; however, they don’t want their main audience to know this, so they silence their most vocal brand ambassadors – 2 Chainz & Rick Ross – and change names or discontinue lines while using the Hip Hop audience’s money to put into their children’s trust funds and for country club memberships.
3. Hip Hop Branding Must Accomodate Flashiness
As a result, a rebrand is announced, because it keeps the stockholders, desired brand ambassadors and those previously loyal to the lifestyle and value on standby to keep “white flight” from killing their business. (White flight, not so much because this is a race issue, but it is a cultural issue… and there’s an intersectionality in race because the majority of influences and major players in Hip Hop are black, not white.)
4. Hip Hop Brands Need to Pursue the Right Opportunity – Or Kick Down the Door and Make Their Own
Why – because if we don’t, we’ll ALWAYS have this problem… and we’ll be blaming hip hop when truly it’s more than just that.