What Brands Can Learn From Jadakiss

How the Hip-Hop Artist Connected With Fans and Didn't Succumb to Radio Pressure

By Published on .

Rob Stone
Rob Stone
At a time when artists are being cut from major label deals and scrambling to find indie labels to release their next albums, Jadakiss has far exceeded expectations with his new Island Def Jam release, "The Last Kiss." After a five-year layoff between album releases (usually a kiss of death for a hip-hop artist), Jadakiss' album sold over 130,000 copies in its first week earlier this month. In these challenged times of selling music, especially albums, that's a very sizable number.

Why and how is this relevant to brands? Let's explore the circumstances and the marketing that led up to Jadakiss' release and the parallels between the launch of his album and the challenges that a brand team faces in launching a campaign. Rest assured there are numerous differences between an album launch and a product launch, but extracting and highlighting what insights and lessons can be learned from his latest release and his initiatives are not as obvious.

Throughout his nearly 15-year career, Jadakiss has protected his reputation and authenticity with the heart of a lion, in part by passing up short-term successes and not succumbing to the pressure to make quick-hit radio records. As advertising dollars have dried up at radio stations over the years, programmers have been under pressure to play hit records more frequently and playlists have shrunk. Ten years ago, many stations' highest-played records were 45 plays a week, or six plays a day. Today it's common for stations to play top records over 100 times a week, which allows less room for records to make it onto playlists. Artists such as Flo Rida, with his monster radio hit single "Right Round," sold more than 2.5 million singles, but his album "R.o.o.t.s " sold only 55,000 copies in its first week -- a significantly lower amount than what Jadakiss sold.

What things did Jadakiss do to connect with his audience despite a lack of exposure on the radio?

First, he integrated himself into the places where his core lifestyle fans lived and became very accessible to them. He went on the road for seven weeks prior to the release, visiting clubs every night, sometimes performing, and other times just being there as part of the scene. He visited malls and had daily discussions and exchanges with fans through blogs and hip-hop sites. He visited radio and hosted tastemakers, DJs and programmers at clubs and played his music through a sponsorship deal wtih Ciroc Vodka. He showed up and performed for Reebok's 10-year anniversary event for basketball superstar Allen Iverson at the NBA All-Star Game in Arizona. He performed in Austin at the Levi's FADER Fort (a Cornerstone event) in front of a primarily alternative rock and hipster audience. He released videos on Youtube; not just music videos, but also funny, behind-the-scenes videos that spoke to his lifestyle and authenticity, which his core fanbase found entertaining. All of this was done to build anticipation for his album -- always feeding his core yet adapting to new market conditions.

Jadakiss played to his strengths. He knew the limitations of radio, and, much like brands today that may no longer be able to create a huge presence on TV and out-of-home, he invested in his core -- he got creative. Jadakiss made himself accessible to his fanbase by creating partnerships with brands, other artists and DJs, and also by utilizing the momentum of the web. Instead of a top-down national approach, he took to the streets -- connecting DJ to DJ, city to city, and building a national presence for the album.

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Rob Stone is founder and co-CEO of Cornerstone, a full-service lifestyle marketing firm based in New York City. For over 12 years, Mr. Stone has executed customized brand campaigns for a roster of A-list clients targeting the key demographic of 15-34 year olds.

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