Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Hip Hop's Far Reaching Corporate Influence

On Super Bowl Sunday last month, Chrysler dropped a cool $9 million dollars for a 2-minute commercial, the longest in Super Bowl history. The commercial showed gritty, emotional everyday pictures of Detroit and Detroiters and asked, “What does a town that’s been to hell and back know about the finer things in life?” The commercial ended with Chrysler’s new tag line: “Imported from Detroit.”

The commercial set the internet ablaze. Traffic on, the premier online automotive information site, spiked. Chrysler-related searches increased by 267% and 1,619% for Chrysler’s new 200, featured in the ad. Chrysler’s bold, profound commercial was ranked by many as one of the top commercials of the Super Bowl. When Sergio Marchionne, CEO of Chrysler, gave his execs a sneak-peak of the ad, many were reportedly close to tears.

Why was this commercial so memorable, moving and so successful (not to mention expensive and risky)? Aside from featuring a battered Detroit now purpotedly rising from the ashes and coming on strong, Chrysler decided to also feature an infamous Detroit native. Perhaps like the automobile industry itself, this Detroit native plateaued several years ago and seemed to fade in import and impact. But now, on a comeback himself, hip hop superstar Eminem can speak for a city and citizenry that are seeking to rise to a new found prominent place.

The irony in this interesting circle of corporate risktaking is that, as reported by Forbes magazine, Marchionne himself hesitated before deciding to make Eminem the face of his franchise in this expensive outlay of shareholder value. Marchionne admitted, “This was not an easy choice. . . . Apart from the money involved . . . and this is pretty expensive stuff, but you know, the choice of the topic, the choice of the characters in the thing were not easy choices. I had to think about this really long and hard. . . . You know, I love Eminem but . . . I also know that some of the choices of language that he has made are things that are not what I would consider to be commonly shared.” Marchionne necessarily treaded a delicate line in featuring the hip hop bad boy who is famous for hard-core lyrics and profanity, as well as bouts of homophobia and misogyny.

Eminem’s manager, Paul Rosenber, explained that the ad “started off as a request to license music but after . . . learning more about [Chysler CEO] Sergio Marchionne's vision, we realized there was a lot in common with Chrysler's story as it relates to Detroit and Eminem and his ability to overcome. We think the video we made with Chrysler is a statement about the passion of the company and the City of Detroit and we are proud to be a part of it."

Marchionne eventually overcame his reluctance to use Eminem as his spokesperson, recognizing how much the rapper has in common with the automaker. “[Eminem] represents part of America that I think is important as hell. I think it’s at the heart of what we are.” OK, not everyone likes the rapper’s music, Marchionne conceded, “but a lot of what he is, is us, you know? I mean there’s a sort of seriousness about that kid . . . which is true of [Chrysler]. The fact that we’re coming out of nowhere, right? A lot of people last year asked us, you know, are you still going to be here in 12 months?”

The fact that Eminem and his parallel story to Chrysler’s are generating national buzz and interest, despite the well-documented auto industry bailouts and bankruptcies last year, is a testament to the far-reaching influence that hip hop artists have nationally and internationally.

*** Cross Posted on the Corporate Justice Blog ***

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