NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Hip-hop's decade of bling is popping, and it looks more like the housing bubble than a champagne cork. So why, at this point, would anyone take financial cues from a culture marked by conspicuous consumption? Honda Motor Co. thinks it has an answer.
The Japanese carmaker just launched a campaign called "Rhymes and Reasons" that features the unsigned rapper Mickey Factz, who, until recently, was still working a day job as a paralegal. With a 30-second TV spot leading viewers to a branded microsite, the up-and-coming MC dispenses commonsense wisdom on saving money along with an implicit value pitch for the Accord -- all from a set designed to look like a garage.
"We wanted the balance of having style, a cool look and a cool lifestyle, but doing it in a way that's sensible for the times," said Barbara Ponce, manager-diversity advertising at Honda. "Many of our Accord customers are professionals, and it's not sensible for them to live at home and pursue music and have a $70,000 car."
The retail prices for the Accord start at $20,905, and, like nearly every other auto brand, it's been hurting lately. Sales were down 39.8% in February compared with the same month in 2008, narrowly beating out an estimated industry-wide decline of 42% for the same time period.
Mr. Factz and his co-host, DJ Gomez Warren IV, star in a centerpiece web series for the campaign that launched just as that dismal sales month was coming to a close. The series features rhymes, fake callers and a poignant theme song called "Sensibility" that Mr. Factz penned just for Honda. Those who visit the microsite will also find more content from the Bronx native, including music downloads and a blog that Ms. Ponce said would be updated regularly with "things that are topical as he sees them in the community."
Mr. Factz was unavailable for this story, but he described his relationship with the automaker to hip-hop magazine XXL in January: "Everybody knows Honda is a sensible car for sensible people. Most artists are portraying this lifestyle that they are ballin' out of control and most of the fans are [sensible] fans and they purchase regular stuff ... and that's why they picked me."
Thanks to Mr. Factz's already strong following online, the first video from the web series has spread wildly throughout the major hip-hop blogs. Scott Yeti, operator of the influential hip-hop marketing blog WoooHa.com and a consultant for music labels and film studios, is skeptical about the overall impact of the push but thinks using Mr. Factz was a great choice.
"For a company like Honda, he is the perfect fit," Mr. Yeti said. "He is college-educated, has underground appeal due to his mix tapes and he's relatively unknown by the mainstream. This allows Honda to portray an image of 'cool' for finding the next big artist to hit the mainstream."
Still, Mr. Yeti isn't sure the campaign will keep hip-hop fans engaged. "It's still too early to tell and maybe Honda has some more tricks up their sleeves with this campaign, but I don't know if the hook there is strong enough to maintain a strong consumer base that will keep coming back."
Jo Muse, chairman-CEO of Muse Communications, the lead agency on the campaign, said that he's hoping "Rhymes and Reasons" will be a blueprint for future music-brand campaigns, and he won't consider it a success unless Mr. Factz gains as much as Honda does.
"We've snatched him out of an underground environment with an ad campaign that most celebrities would be envious of," Mr. Muse said.
With the bling era screeching to a halt -- or at least parking for a while -- Mr. Factz may have found a good vehicle to steer hip-hop in a different direction.