McDonald's Corp. has hired entertainment-marketing firm Maven Strategies to help the fast-food giant encourage hip-hop artists to integrate the Big Mac sandwich into their upcoming songs. The goal is to have several tracks hit the radio airwaves by the summer.
"The stars of hip-hop have become brands," said Douglas Freeland, director-brand entertainment strategy at McDonald's. "This partnership reflects our appreciation and respect for the most dominant youth culture in the world."
But the plan, first reported in Advertising Age's Madison & Vine newsletter, drew ire of watchdog group the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood, which rapped the fast-feeder. "Even as food companies pay lip service to the idea of responsible marketing, they increasingly turn to new and deceitful ways of targeting children," said Dr. Susan Linn, CCFC co-founder. "Listeners won't know the rappers are being paid to push Big Macs-these `adversongs' are inherently deceptive."
McDonald's disagrees. "This is where brand relevance has gone and we have great confidence that the consumer understands this," said a spokesman. "[Consumers are ] cognizant of this as a placement in brand stategy....We believe that the McDonald's brand is so ominpresent already in America that having it in music, having it in TV, having it in movies, is no more intrusive than anything else children experience nowadays."
Maven, based in Lanham, Md., has already approached record labels, producers and individual artists with the Big Mac proposal, which emphasizes writing lyrics around the sandwich's name alone, and not necessarily including McDonald's or the Golden Arches.
Maven also tries to identify when an artist is hoping to release a new record: An advertiser could time a marketing campaign around the release of an album that features its product in a song.
For the deal involving the Big Mac, McDonald's receives final approval of the lyrics, but it will ultimately allow artists to decide how the sandwich is integrated into the songs. "The main thing is to allow the artists to do what they do best," said Tony Rome, president-CEO of Maven Strategies. "We're letting them creatively bring to life the product in their song."
Maven receives a consulting fee. Music acts, however, will not receive payment upfront. Instead, they will earn anywhere from $1 to $5 each time their song is played on the radio. That payment strategy not only limits the risk for McDonald's, or any other brand looking to partner with music acts, but also encourages artists to produce a hit.
"The risk involved for upfront payment is all eliminated," said Mr. Rome."If an artist isn't able to deliver [a hit], there's no out-of-pocket cost to the client. You pay for performance."
A hit song also means more than just radio airplay, which could extend the reach of the brand. "If a song is getting a lot of airplay, there's a strong likelihood it will be played in clubs, be downloaded, be turned into a ringtone and sell more CDs," Mr. Rome said.
Because radio play is easier to track, brands only pay artists when their song is spun; Maven can also track satellite radio.
Maven has garnered interest from advertisers after the company integrated Seagram's gin into five rap songs last year from artists such as Kanye West and Petey Pablo. Petey Pablo's "Freek-a-leek" ended up as the No. 2 hip-hop song of the year, according to the Billboard Top 50 hip-hop songs of 2004, and played over 350,000 times on the radio. Part of the lyrics: "Now I got to give a shout out to Seagram's Gin/Cause I'm drinkin' it and they payin' me for it."
But most brands aren't paying for it-record labels have charged for brands to appear in music videos, but not in lyrics. And that's somewhat surprising, considering how many brands are being name-dropped by rappers. Brands including Bentley, Porsche, Gucci, Gulfstream and Dom Perignon have all been mentioned by rap stars Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Snoop Dogg.