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Straight Outta… Branding, Marketing & PR

Beats by Dr. Dre wireless headphones on laptop displaying black screen

I am not one to jump on bandwagons especially social media fads and trends. I dislike the thought of inadvertently taking part in behavioural science experiments and becoming statistical data stored in some far away computer laboratory. However this weekend I found myself becoming a sheep and representing the city where my roots lay firmly. Freetown, Sierra Leone, West Africa! 

I was one of the first people on my timeline apart from the celebrities I follow, to use the Straight Outta Somewhere App. The beautiful Ledisi shared hers and I thought why not? The Beats by Dre logo gave it away and so I went straight to their Instagram page, found exactly what I was looking for and I jumped right in! Honestly, outside of deciding what pic to use, I didn’t even give it much thought. PS I am a sucker for black and white pictures so based on that alone they had me hooked.

Of course whenever there are these social media campaigns, the party poopers arrive in grand style with their megaphones and loud speakers to make you question your life and your desire to become sheep and follow the masses. An article from the Huffington Post about the misogyny and rape culture, gang violence and drugs that encompassed the NWA and the music they put out in their hey day began to do the rounds. And then there was another from For Harriet. And another. And yet another.

Serves me right. It was payback time as I have pooped a few parties myself in the past. For a split second I felt really bad. I can’t say I am a fan of Dr Dre or that I am an ardent listener of his music. But I remembered Miche’le detailing her experience with domestic abuse while dating Dr Dre on reality TV show RNB Divas. As a woman I questioned whether in jumping on the bandwagon, I was helping to perpetuate the negative stereotypes of gangsta rap, knowing that they do us women no favours.

It really bothered me and I thought about it for a while. Sometimes there is a real dilemma and conflict of interest for advocates and activists when bad people create good art. To what extent should my interests be led by my feminist-in-training crusade for a better world? Far from this being about the lyrical content or connotations of the album that the movie being promoted is named after or the sins that Dr Dre may have committed, this is a brand machination with expert Marketing and PR gurus – the kind you can’t help but admire and aspire to be – who put thought into coming up with an innovative idea that many from all over the world can relate to and be a part of. This is the kind of machination that separates the crispy sweet pink lady apples from the sour dry oranges and the Beats By Dres from the Tidals.

Hashtags and press releases are simply not enough anymore. Social Media was never intended to be the world’s shortest press release.

I hate to say it because I am routing for Jay Z and Tidal all the way but Tidal’s social media campaign was dry at best, a flop at worst in comparison. The teal tidal wave didn’t catch on. It was exclusive only to those who were already a part of the movement. It didn’t offer much for everyone else and even though it was named #TidalForAll, many couldn’t appreciate the minimalist teal box and were further disappointed when they realised how much they would have to pay to use the service. Tidal didn’t even try to entice people with a dope campaign. I understood the Tidal dream and the vision but I didn’t initially understand the teal boxes and I assumed I wasn’t meant to get it because it wasn’t for me. I figured it was meant to be something subliminally abstract and bright and exclusive! Those who jumped on it did so mostly because they were hardcore fans of those leading the movement. The tidal wave wasn’t so wavey after all.

Put that up against this Beats By Dre campaign, and what you have is an invitation to tell your story under the guise of supporting or promoting the movement. Therein lies the genius: it is about you as much as it is about them. It is a campaign that unifies the celebrity with the average man on the street and gives them common ground. Everyone is excited to show off where they are from. So even if like me you are not a fan of NWA or their music, they still managed to grab your attention. When you also take into consideration that we are the meme generation, this is perfect for digital citizens and so much buzz has already been created by this app.

If those of us working in branding, marketing and PR can take anything away from this, it is that hashtags and press releases are simply not enough anymore. Social Media was never intended to be the world’s shortest press release. The best social media campaigns may start with a hashtag but they go way beyond it. This is marketing and advertising at its best, a lesson in the business of Social Media.

The irony of it all is that the campaign is called Straight Outta Somewhere. One could argue that the songs recorded and released by the NWA were simply art imitating life. That is what the hood was – maybe to a great extent still is – and good or bad, take it or leave it, that is where they are from and that is the life they lived. That is what they saw growing up. Those were the stories they had to tell. It is well noted that NWA also reflected the anger of urban youth. The bourgeoisie and uppity wannabes amongst us couldn’t even begin to understand why F*ck Tha Police was an actual song on an album. They were frowned upon for it. Not only were they using profanity, they were also being disrespectful to authority. How dare they?! Thugs and hooligans! Or at least the privileged pretended not to understand because that wasn’t their fate or plight. That was in 1988. Fast forward to 2015 and thanks again to the instant dissemination of information via social media, I think we have all had our aha moment.

To come from that, a mental and physical space that is determined to kill your dreams and gives you no hope but instead grooms you for a life sentence in jail, the same mental and physical space that teaches you that women aint ish and pimps and drug dealers are your heroes and role models, the same mental and physical space that has left so many young people fatherless and in some cases orphaned and left in the system to continue the same vicious cycle, be it through gun violence, drugs, crime, pimping and prostitution or even death by police brutality. To come from that and become one of the most successful and influential Forbes recognised businessmen of our time, embraced by one of the best brands in the world, I do not believe that the take away should be the negativity. It should be the lessons learnt and the boss moves made universally.

I would like to read articles about how Dr Dre turned things around. I am keen to know what his approach to life is now. I want to know more about him as a businessman. Many know the headphones brand but how many know the story behind it? What would he tell his younger self about the lessons he has learnt in life and in business? How about we push that narrative and use it to inspire youth? With the benefit of his hindsight and experience, how do we make things better now, so that we cut out the most unsavoury parts of the ascend to success? Even though he may argue that those unsavoury parts were a crucial part of his ascend. If anything we should be presenting masterclasses using him as a case study, about how to leave the hood and thug life behind you, to become a success story and a billionaire on a Forbes list.

Before now I wasn’t keen on the movie. Now although I can’t say I am eagerly anticipating its August 14 release, I am definitely interested and I will watch it. Time will determine whether that would be at the cinema, or on Netflix. I haven’t listened to Dre’s recent album Compton either and to be honest I don’t believe I will. But this review from the New York Daily News gives some good insight.

I end the way the review begins; “eventually even gangstas grow up.” I am not a fan of gangsta rap or gang violence. I cannot stand and will never co-sign the misogyny that is often synonymous with rap culture. I am also not a fan of prison systems that seek retribution, sometimes excessively so, with no road map to rehabilitation. However I am a fan of dreamers and I champion achievers, growth, and progress. Especially when the underdog who no one believed stood a chance, ends up winning. I am a firm believer that presented with the right opportunities, anyone can change and be better. Lest we forget that although brilliance is evenly spread out throughout the world, it is the hope to believe in said brilliance and the opportunities to explore it, that are lacking. I find inspiration in watching growth and evolution. I am a fan of innovative ideas that reach outside of the boxes that so many creative minds have been forcefully stuffed into.

So when I changed my profile picture, it was not necessarily in celebration of the unsavoury side of the Straight Outta Compton story. Subconsciously, it could have been a firm handshake and a fist bump to the moral of this hip-hop fairytale dream that came alive. It is most definitely a salute to the team of experts who came up with a successful marketing campaign that is fun and universal nod to storytelling.

Dr Dre’s Domestic Abuse allegations

Although there have been multiple allegations of domestic abuse made against Dr Dre, to date, there is only one reported case on his record. In 1991, after he assaulted rapper and T.V. personality Dee Barnes, he was charged with assault and battery. He pleaded no contest and he was sentenced to community service and probation, fined $2,500 and ordered to make a domestic violence P.S.A.; a civil suit was settled out of court.

Any man that puts his hands on a female is a f*cking idiot. He’s out of his f*cking mind, and I was out of my f*cking mind at the time. I f*cked up, I paid for it, I’m sorry for it, I apologise for it. I have this dark cloud that follows me, and it’s going to be attached to me forever. It’s a major blemish on who I am as a man.

Dr Dre

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