Retains Maven Strategies to Negotiate Artist Deals

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LOS ANGELES -- Hip-hop artists have plugged in virtually every high-end brand from Cartier to Versace into their song lyrics. But now the Big Mac is about to get name dropped.
McDonald's wants to have its Big Mac featured in several hit song lyrics by summer.

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.

Summertime airplay

The goal is to have several tracks hit the radio airwaves by the summer.

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.

“Once we partner with a particular brand, we identify artists that meet the attributes of the brand,” said Tony Rome, president-CEO of Maven Strategies. He added that because artists have different styles -- some are more serious, some are more party driven -- ­­“we always want to make sure their style works with the advertiser.”

Maven also tries to identify when an artist is hoping to release a new record: An advertiser could time a new marketing campaign around the release of an album that features its product in a song.

Final song approval

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,” Mr. Rome said. “We’re letting them creatively bring to life the product in their song.”

Maven’s already started receiving several songs for consideration.

Maven receives a consulting fee for its services. 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.

Payment strategy

That payment strategy not only limits the risk for McDonald’s, or any other brand looking to partner up with music acts, but also encourages artists to produce a hit song.

“At the end of the day, this has to work for the brands, and we want to deliver quantitative results,” Mr. Rome said. “The risk involved for upfront payment is all eliminated. 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 by a station. Maven can also track how many times a song plays on satellite radio.

Shout out to Seagram's Gin

Maven has started to drum up interest from advertisers after the company was able to integrate Seagram’s gin into five rap songs last year from artists such as Kanye West, Twista, the Franchise Boys 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 that song’s 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. Last year, Kanye West mentioned 19 brands, including Lexus, Versace, Cartier, Mercedes and Cadillac in four singles, according to American Brandstand, which tracks the number of brands music acts mention in their songs.

Product placement in music seems to work. Courvoisier enjoyed a sales boost in the U.S. and Europe after Busta Rhymes’ “Pass the Courvoisier” was released.

Part of the rapper's lifestyle

Mr. Rome said that rappers are mentioning brands in their songs because “the brands are part of their lifestyle. It’s something they’re already utilizing, eating or driving.

“Hip-hop represents a large share of what pop culture is today,” Mr. Rome said. “Hip-hop’s endorsement of different brands give them a cool factor and representation among youth. They gain credibility by being mentioned in songs.”

Advertisers are only eager to leverage the power of hip-hop as a marketing tool and generate some exposure for their brand among the music genre’s young urban consumers. Hip-hop generates an estimated $2 billion in sales a year and ranks behind rock 'n' roll as the second most popular music genre in America.

Hip-hop stars are brands

“The stars of hip-hop have become brands,” said Douglas Freeland, director of brand entertainment strategy at McDonald’s. “This partnership reflects our appreciation and respect for the most dominant youth culture in the world.”

But not every brand will appeal to rap stars.

“We wouldn’t be having this conversation about Clorox bleach or Brillo pads,” Mr. Rome said.

Maven’s relationship with advertisers is now enabling it to expand its entertainment marketing business.

The company, which has been active in the entertainment marketing arena for the past 10 years, has also produced several live events, including Seagram’s Gin Live, a 25-city tour featuring urban music acts, and the “Kings of Comedy Tour,” whose sponsors included Crown Royal and HBO.

But Maven now also exclusively represents Seagram’s Gin and Martell Cognac for all forms of product placement and promotional deals in entertainment. Maven recently produced a promotion for Martell around Lions Gate’s hit Diary of a Mad Black Woman and will integrate the product into New Line Cinema’s upcoming comedy King’s Ransom.
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