Rocawear Casts Controversial Widow in Ad

Like It or Not, It's Smart Marketing

By Published on .

Nicole Paultre-Bell in Roca ad.
Nicole Paultre-Bell in Roca ad.
According to the New York Post, Jay-Z's Rocawear has unveiled ads featuring Nicole Paultre-Bell, the widow of Sean Bell, who was gunned down by a hail of police bullets during an altercation outside of a club last year. Among other things, the incident highlighted the tension between the African-American community and the New York City Police Department. Of course, the "mainstream" reaction implied in the story is "How dare they?" The marketer and the widow are being painted as opportunists. Lawyers for the defendants are claiming it's a publicity stunt aimed at swaying the trial. The marketer sees things differently:
Jameel Spencer, chief marketing officer for Rocawear, justified the ad, insisting the goal of the campaign is to tell stories of people who overcome adversity.

"It embodies the spirit of how Rocawear was born - how hip-hop was born," said Spencer. "We're trying to highlight different stories.

"Nicole, she really embodies the overall spirit of that. She's someone who's suffered a great loss. When that happens, you want to curl up in a ball and die. That's a tough thing. The day you're supposed to get married and something horrible happens."
And undoubtedly, some brand "experts" would rush to say that linking your brand to such a controversial court case is a dumb move. Things could go badly. And you can bet the defense team is going to air out all of Sean Bell's dirty laundry. And on and on.

But the target market for Rocawear isn't brand experts, now is it? But a quick look at the comments rolling into urban, hip-hop and pop-culture sites will show you that -- whether or not you agree with the move -- Jay-Z and the folks behind the brand knew exactly what they were doing.
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