Tag Archives: hiphop

Technics SL-1200: A Story of a Brand Who Deliberately Wants to Lose Its Street Credibility

dj

Me and my SL-1210 ca.2004

I own four turntables: one set back in (OG) home in Finland and one set here in Singapore (naturally as old DJ, I count turntables in pairs). All of these turntables are Technics SL-1200. In 2010 the production for these DJ workhorses ceased, but because of the current vinyl revival Panasonic has started to manufacture them again.

Only catch: they will cost about $2800 (about four times the previous retail price of Technics Sl-1200. To put it in perspective, I have used about $1500 for all my four turntables. I have nothing against companies trying to make more money, but the bigger problem I have with them is how they are alienating the group that made them famous to begin with:

“Our concept is analog records for hi-fi listening. D.J.s are fine, too, but as a marketing target it’s problematic. We don’t want to sell the 1200 as the best tool for D.J.ing. The 1200 is the 1200.”

-Hiro Morishita, Creative Director at Technics

Because of the DJ´s, sl-1200 has become one of the most well-known turntables in the world.  Now they are essentially disowning that group and trying to attract old and wealthy audiophiles. They have German classical pianist Alice Sara Ott as their global brand ambassador. They used to sponsor DJ championships before.

I have nothing personally against Alice, but I have seldom seen brands so totally disowning their heritage. Also it seems counterintuitive that when brands are struggling to target millennials and younger audience you have a company that has a great opportunity with that tricky target audience and totally neglecting to take advantage of it.

Vinyl sales are growing among millennials, hip-hop is worldwide phenomenon and DJs are biggest music superstars. You have a product that is naturally ingrained to all these trends. Many brands don´t have street credibility and try to borrow it. Technics Sl-1200 would need to borrow it, but instead they have pivoted to weird direction.

Not to mention, they don´t also have credibility in audiophile audience.

Technics SL-1200 has never been known for being the best hi-fi turntable and with their current price tag you can get turntables with better sound quality. The cultural cache that Technics Sl-1200 has does not really expand to hi-fi enthusiasts. If you are listening to Alice Sara Ott, you don´t really care who is Grandmaster Flash or that he used to use exact same turntable. Only people I know that have modified tonearm or power supply in SL-1200 (well-known not particularly good sound quality items in Technics Sl-1200) are old DJ´s. Would not seem that of a stretch for them to acknowledge the DJ heritage but do an improved version for the nostalgic old DJ´s and the DJ-minded audience. I would assume the sales would be better than with the new version.

I am loyal to my Technics Sl-1200 as long as I listen to vinyl, but I would never buy the new SL-1200G. Luckily the thing why DJ´s loved these turntables are that they are almost unbreakable so I don´t really need to acquire new ones.

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When Advertising Just Makes You Angry

When you work in advertising, you mostly become numb to advertising. Occasionally you are awed of great executions and seldom something makes your blood boil. There are two reasons when advertising makes you angry:

  • The execution is so shitty, that it is disgrace to our whole profession.
  • The product is immoral and the whole belief behind it is faulty and harmful.

This ad falls into latter category.

snakeoil

Kids should play and not drink brain-enhancing snake oil. This advertising underlines what is wrong with the education at the moment. The idea of success is really narrow-minded, only celebrating white-collar specialists. When you prepare your whole life to be a banker, it is highly doubtful that you will suddenly become Steve Jobs. It is also sad that only occupations in the list are really boring ones. What kind of sadist wants their children to become IT manager or accountant? Children should dream of becoming astronauts instead of dentists, for goodness sake. For kids to practice sports and participate in cultural events would be way more helpful than the strenuous tuition and placebo drugs.

I spent my childhood and early teens (what the hell; pretty much whole my life) listening to hiphop and playing basketball. That did not prevent me to get in to good university, graduate and become “respectable” contributor to society. I did not need to take performance-enhancing study drugs to achieve this and I doubt anyone else really needs either. Although my background on paper looks the typical business school born and bred planner, I have found all the extra-curriculum activities being much more helpful in my career than my actual studies. And I truly focused on my extra-curriculum activities. But I work in advertising, which hardly constitutes as a real work. At least it is not as desirable job as engineer to put to your Omega-3 oil advertisement.

Learning things by heart is easy and therefore excelling in school does not require extraordinary talent. When we force our children to conform early on, they will never regain their curiosity. Without curiosity there is no new ideas and without them there is eventually no growth in society. When there is only one right and very narrow view of success, we will just grow a generation of dull robots.

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Image is Nothing, Brand Behavior is Everything

Lemon lime soft drinks weren’t supposed to succeed against colas. It just didn’t happen. But then again, hip hop wasn’t supposed to succeed against pop, but that’s exactly what Sprite did – – and that sprite campaign is sort of a metaphor for what hip hop did.
– Dan Charnas (author of The Big Payback)

Sponsorship is easy, right?

You just stamp your logo to famous musician, athlete, whatever and borrow her relevance to your boring brand. When done well, it works great. Unfortunately quite often sponsorship is quite ad-hoc (our CEO likes cricket, let´s sponsor it!) and the bigger role of brand is totally forgotten. Brands have to stand for something and believe in something. That cannot be changed quarterly.

Brands change their sponsorships too often. Last year you were about music, now you are about start-ups and next year about parkour. Because of the short tenures of CMOs, brands are struggling to keep consistency and sponsorship is definitely something that is too often just an add-on. Brands are trying to desperately collaborate with the current hot thing but at the same time forget for what they are standing for.

It makes sense to have focus on your sponsorship. Find a passion that suits your brand and then stick with it. It is better to go narrow than too wide. Instead of being about sports, be about football. Instead of being about music, be about hiphop. Be sharp. If you are everything for everyone, you are more likely nothing for a few.

And speaking of hiphop, one of the greatest examples of sponsorship has been Sprite. They have been connecting itself with hiphop for over 30 years:

That commitment to hiphop has also been something that has made business sense. In 90s Sprite was challenger brand, so it had to find its own voice in sponsorship as well. They made a bet on hiphop and that bet has paid off during those years. What is underground today, will be mainstream tomorrow.

Obey Your Thirst, which within two years doubles Sprite’s market share, and makes it the fastest growing soft drink in America, and eventually, in power of Sprite, they take away the NBA sponsorship from Coca-Cola.
Dan Charnas

Brands need to have consistent behavior, whereas tone-of-voice can vary. Sprite was a challenger brand and it collaborated with challenger musicians. It´s collaboration with hiphop went deeper than just having hiphop music on Sprite ads. They understood and respected the culture. When you have right partnerships and sponsorships they make your brand stronger. When Sprite has been moving away from hiphop, it has been a mistake. Stick to what you believe in and where you are good, instead of trying pathetically to reinvent yourself every time.

What the Obey Your Thirst campaign did for corporate America was that it proved to corporate America that, it’s okay Proctor and Gamble, it’s okay IBM, Sprite took a chance on hip hop and it’s beating everybody. It’s at that point that Sprite sets the archetype for dealing with hip hop straight on. Dealing with black culture and by extension black people straight on, rather than trying to water it down, make it slap happy, and that was sort of a feature of some “minority geared advertising” for many years. Hip hop helps to change the tone of that.
Dan Charnas

The Sprite ads were “content marketing” before that horrible term was coined. Other soda brands had hiphop artists in ads (leaning towards the pop side), Sprite let the artists shine where they were good at.

Pete Rock, CL Smooth and Grand Puba are freestyling on the studio. Funny part is that CL Smooth is dissing “commercial rappers” in commercial. Talking about meta-level:

The knowledge of hiphop roots run through the commercials, like this one which revisits one of the greatest hiphop beefs of all-time:

The consistency and commitment is also apparent with the rappers they work with. With Nas they have worked from 90s and with Drake over 5 years:

Nas & Az over Wild Style beat

Constructing Drake

The assimilation goes deeper than just ads. Sprite has held hiphop talent competitions, pressed vinyl records and now their newest campaign “Obey Your Verse” showcases hiphop verses on the Sprite cans.
spritecans

The selection is a nice mixture of classic lines mixed with their current brand ambassador Drake.
spriterappers

Sprite connects with the passion of our their target audience in a way deeper level than many other brands. That makes sponsorship a part of brand behavior and not just an afterthought. No need to change your course annually: stick to what you believe in and roll with it.

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Hip-Hop Innovation & About Being The First Magpie

“Good artists copy, great artists steal”
– Pablo Picasso

There was an interesting research lately about musical patterns in US pop charts from 1960 to 2010. One of the most headline-catching “findings” of the study was that the Beatles was not really that innovative, but was merely channeling existing patterns in charts. Contrary to hip-hop, of whom the researchers put to pedestal as the most important music revolution in charts.

“There’s three of us but we’re not the Beatles”
– Run DMC (King Of Rock)

Which sounds about right: the evolution of music has been a series of artists, intentionally and not, building on each other.

“Elvis was a hero to most
But he never meant sh*t to me you see
Straight up racist that sucker was
Simple and plain
Mother f*ck him and John Wayne”
– Chuck D (Fight The Power)

As a life-long hip-hop fan, it naturally tickles my fancy that the research highlights hiphop as one of the most revolutionary turning points in music charts. Hip-hop is the evolution of music. Through sampling you can turn every musical genre to a potential hip-hop song. Rapping enabled you to have much more message and words in one song as you are not confined by traditional song structure and need to have catchy chorus. You also do not necessarily need to be able to sing or play instrument to make hiphop (little bit similar as in punk). Hip-hop serves as the blueprint on how the innovation should work:

  • Use, alter, remix, combine existing material. Other man´s five-second-horn stab is other man´s full song.
  • Rethink the traditional form. Rapping is a closer to preaching than singing. With the abandonment of the traditional harmony and music conventions you free up more time to deliver your message
  • Democratize the tools. The more inclusive are the tools, the more opportunities there are for new interesting and surprising things to happen.

“Most decent popular music researchers would probably agree that the Beatles were not so much innovators as musical magpies – and that’s not a criticism. They, like all of us, listened to all sorts of stuff and were duly inspired”
– Mike Brocken, director of world´s first Beatles master degree (!)

There has not ever been such thing as a solitary inventor. Innovation is not about figuring stuff out in isolation. It is ability to combine existing things in new ways. It has never been about being the first. It is about being the first magpie.
Apple has not really been the first in anything, but they are the most innovative and also the most profitable company in the world.
Our obsession in coming up with something new is a quest doomed to fail. We should concentrate to listen to all sorts of stuff, be inspired and combine that existing stuff in new ways.

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Everything I Have Learned From Business, I Have Learned From Wu-Tang Clan

The most duplicated, anticipated, validated
Urban legends in the books with the ones who made it
Highly celebrated, everything was work related
Current top 40 got the Wu deep in all their business
20 years Killa Bees, yeah, we hold the pennant
Monumental stance on the cover with my co-defendants
Drop her sentence, in remembrance
Construct these jewels so they can live through my descendants
-U-God (A Ruckus in B Minor)

As some of readers of this blog might know, I have always been quite deeply involved in hiphop. Although I don´t rhyme or deejay as much anymore, I still collect records and try to follow latest music as closely as possible. Recently I was asked to write a story about Wu-Tang Clan for the biggest Finnish music magazine Rumba. If you are Finnish reader, I recommend reading it.

Wu-Tang Clan has been one of the most influential bands for me and they shaped my teenage years profoundly. What is remarkable of Wu-Tang Clan, that they were not only able to do classic albums, they build a successful business imperium as well. Regardless of your personal preference regarding hip-hop, there is quite a lot to learn from Wu-Tang Clan:

1.You Need A Good Logo
wutang

Wu-Tang Logo is legendary. The basic version with black & yellow colorway shines like Batman pattern at night. The logo is also flexible and works in different shapes, colors and adaptations.

2. You have to have a strong leader
rza

The musical peak of Wu-Tang Clan is still their debut album. That was also the time, when their leadership was most firmly at the hands of one person: RZA. He produced the album and fierce members of Wu-Tang were freestyling against each other in studio to secure a slot on the album. In later years, the egos of certain members of the group have gotten bigger and there has been more turmoil regarding the artistic direction. Unfortunately the democracy has not necessarily been that successful for them artistically.

3. Do your own thing

Wu-Tang Clan borrowed its subject matter from old Kung-Fu movies and the sounds were lifted from dusty soul albums. That was totally unique at that time. It was not tested in focus groups, did not have market research behind or was not anything really that was ever done before. Quite often you cannot predict what people want, you just do something you believe and hope for the best.

4. Nurture your talent
“We reinvented the way hip hop was structured, and what I mean is, you have a group signed to a label, yet the infrastructure of our deal was like anyone else’s. We still could negotiate with any label we wanted, like Meth went with Def Jam, Rae stayed with Loud, Ghost went with Sony, GZA went with Geffen Records, feel me? And all these labels still put “Razor Sharp Records” on the credits. Wu Tang was a financial movement”
RZA

Wu-Tang Clan as a band has sold 6.5 million albums in US. Overall they have sold 40 million albums worldwide. That number includes the individual solo albums. What was a strike of genius from RZA, was that every member of the group was able to get their own record deals from another record label. This enabled that almost every major record label had at least one Wu-Tang artist on their roster. Solo albums might have diverted the attention from the group effort, but from individual artists it was great. Especially in the beginning the sales figures were outstanding for the each individual Wu-Tang solo album as well.

5. Expand

Wu-Tang Clan was not only about music. It was about merchandise (Wu-Wear), tours, movies and even video games. The business part was always totally integrated to the music as well. Above song is called Wu-Wear: A Garment Reneissance and it is a legitimate song, but at the same time you can also view it as a blatant advertising. Wu-Tang Clan never sold out, they sold in.

6. But Don´t Expand Too Much

At some point, there was new album coming from random Wu-affiliate almost every month. This was the time before streaming, online mixtapes or even well-developed piracy, so if you wanted the records you had to buy them. Naturally the quality was not always that good and there was definitely certain Wu-fatigue at the end of the century. For example, the video below features “the youngest” member of Wu Shyheim. That song in question was probably as good as it gets, but generally no one really remembers him or any other of those loosely affiliated Wu-wannabes. Already in 1994 there was over 300 Wu-Tang affiliates.

Licensing business is the best business there is, as you it is essentially opportunity to print money. You should not license your brand to anyone, as you want retain some scarcity and appeal of your brand. Stamp of Wu-Tang Clan was commoditized at the turn of the century, but lately they have tried to regain some exclusivity. Maybe it is too late already?

7. Keep Innovating

This December Wu-Tang Clan released their new studio album “A Better Tomorrow” (which was also distributed as a bluetooth speaker). That is no the whole story though, there is also album called “Once Upon Time in Shaolin”, but there is one catch. There is only one of them in existence. Apparently someone has already offered 5 million of it as well. The music business is in ruins, but at least these hiphop-veterans keep on trying.

If you are interested more about hiphop and business, I recommend reading “The Big Payback: The History of The Business of Hip-Hop”, a brilliant book by Dan Charnas. It has great coverage of Wu-Tang Clan as well. Besides that I also recommend listening to Wu-Tang Clan regularly. It is good for you.

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“When I didn’t have a mic, I rapped on headphones”

Although I am white dude from suburban Finland, I have always been quite serious hiphop-head. This song below has always been one of the favorites. Raw simple drums and raw battle rhymes. That is all you need in a perfect hiphop-song:

One Charizma line has become a legendary hiphop-quotable from the song. It is almost like a rally cry for the indie hiphop movement and DIY spirit in mid 90´s and early 2000:

“ When I didn´t have a mic, I rapped on headphones”

For those who know, in the absence of microphone you can usually plug headphones to microphone input of mixer (I have done that as well). More street credible rappers have also been known to rap their records in telephones from jails. However, the line has lived on through the years within the song and also with this cool t-shirt designed by Parra:
tshirt
Now 18 years later, this legendary line has found again a new life with this awesome collaboration by headphone brand AIAIAI and legendary West Coast record label Stones Throw records. You can actually get to the record by rapping to your headphones:

This project is a great example that although you do a contest it can have some innovation with it. The contest promotes actual product launch. Many headphone brands do bespoken collaboration products and some might also do music contests. Stones Throw & AIAIAI have been one of the best ones creating quite holistic and enjoyable consumer experience from the website to the app. Because of that legendary Charizma line, it also makes perfect sense for headphone brand.

Also a good example that you should mine your good ideas way more often from old underground rap songs.

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