Products gain popularity through hip-hop culture

Hip-hop has bridged the gap between blacks and corporate America, author and marketing expert Erin Patton told students at the Kelly Alumni Center on Tuesday night.

Patton, who wrote “Under the Influence: Tracing the Hip-Hop Generation’s Impact on Brands, Sports & Pop Culture” and helped Michael Jordan create Nike’s Jordan Brand, said he was lucky to grow up in a time when hip-hop was beginning to shake the identity of the generation.

“I had a unique understanding of this culture,” Patton said. “I was able to bring my understanding into the advertising market and public relations fields to help them gain an understanding of exactly who the consumer was.”

It is important for a company to understand what the consumers need and to have an authentic connection with them, Patton said.

“One of the reasons Nike is Nike is because (the assistant creator of Nike) was a runner,” he said. “He understood what runners needed.”

Reinventing a brand is a good way to connect to the younger demographic, and hip-hop has helped with this, he said. Gatorade was beginning to mature, so it had to reinvent, which it did by creating the drink “G,” Patton said.

“The creator that came up with that campaign was able to take language that was relevant in the culture,” Patton said. “If you are part of this generation and you are a ‘G,’ that’s a good thing. That’s a term of endearment.”

Authenticity is important in selling brands, especially relative to the urban market, he said.

“We are talking about a generation of consumers who are very savvy and understand what brands are looking to market to them,” Patton said.

Another example of a product gaining market share through the urban renaissance was Heineken putting a head nod in their commercials, he said.

“For urban influencers, we recognized that that was an unspoken form of communication,” Patton said. “It was a code. If I gave you a head nod, we instantly connect.”

It is important for brands to realize the urban community wants the respect back, he said.

Rapper Jay-Z used to sing about the champagne Cristal. When Jay-Z heard that the Cristal owner was not excited about this, he quickly started using other brands in his songs, he said.

“He felt disrespected for the culture so he sent the signal that we are no longer drinking Cristal,” he said. “Just that quickly Cristal was no longer the champagne of choice (among) the audience.”

Patton attributed his success to not being afraid to fail.

“Give yourself the opportunity to fail,” he said. “Success occurs when preparation meets opportunity.”