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McDonalds To Pay Rap Artists To Mention The Big Mac In Song Print E-mail
Thursday, 07 April 2005
I have long contested that rap music isn’t really music. Stealing a James Brown or Parliament Funkadelic melody and spewing ghetto poetry on top of endlessly looped rhythms isn’t exactly creative, but no critic of rap can deny its commercial and popular appeal, especially in urban environments. It turns out that mega-burger slinger McDonald’s is looking to parlay the urban appeal of rap into a summer promotion for the restaurant’s legendary Big Mac sandwich, according to the March 23, 2005 issue of Advertising Age Magazine. Rap artists have been calling out brand names as part of their shtick for years. Artists from J-Lo to P-Diddy to Ice-T and many others make mention of all kinds of luxury brands as a way of showing off their “bling bling” lifestyles within their songs. In some cases, as with auto manufacturers like Bentley and Lamborghini, the newest products are selling in significant numbers to very upmarket rap fans. Once the only person you might see rolling down the street in a Bentley Azure was some blue-haired old biddy. Today you are just as likely to see a younger, more urban driver looking to make an over-the-top statement about his or her wealth for everyone to see.

McDonald’s plan is based around a successful program run by Seagram’s in 2004, where a handful of artists purposefully mentioned Seagram’s in their songs. In order to take advantage of this year’s program, a popular artist needs to submit the song for approval by McDonald’s, thus blurring the line between artist creativity and the outright purchase of lyrics in a song. This is a first for popular musical lyrics. However, product placement in movies and music videos is already a big business and an established marketing element. McDonald’s plans to track the airplay of the approved songs and pay the artist based on how many times the song is played. This is a very similar system to the way pro golfers get paid for wearing a sponsor’s logo on their hats or shirts. The difference with this promotion is Bearing Point or Ford doesn’t tell Phil Mickelson to go for a par five on his second shot from 250 yards away at The Masters, but McDonald’s could very well not approve a song that doesn’t meet their standards, whatever those standards might be.

On a marketing level, this new angle, pioneered by Seagram’s and being tried by McDonald’s, is creative in its reach and low-risk, considering the way the artists get paid. On an ethical level, the deal is bankrupt. Rap artists need to be working on being more like artists and less like businessmen. Show me a rap artist who can play an instrument proficiently and I can show you a dozen more who couldn’t hit a note if you had nine-millimeters pointed at their heads (sideways, of course, because all rap guys hold their gats sideways to make them look tougher).

The risk here is that fans will notice that their favorite artists are trying to sneak commercial messages into their favorite urban and rap music without their conscious approval, a sneakier version of what happens when an artist was hired to write a song for a TV or radio commercial. Perhaps fans won’t mind the product placement in the track if the song is catchy enough. On the other hand, if the reference is too blatant, the fans could turn on the artist for being a sellout in the blink of an eye. No matter what happens, this marketing initiative marks a new low for the music business, which can ill afford to alienate more fans.

Advertising Age
Disc and DAT Update

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