A study was released this week in the journal Addiction talking about the relationship between the rap music industry and advertising and its effects on those who listen to it. The study was done by the University of Pittsburgh's School of Medicine. It analyzed close to 800 of the most popular songs between 2005–2007 and found that, of all the songs that mentioned alcohol, 25% also mentioned a specific brand name. What's the big deal? Well, when it comes to examining which alcohol brands are the most popular amongst underage drinkers, those same brands topped the lists.
The researchers are trying to determine if the positive references of these alcohol brands are not only affecting the underage drinking community, but if they can be considered advertising to underage drinkers. According to the press release and the news article, the songs mentioned specifically were not sought after or paid for by the advertising companies. This alcohol product placement in rap songs has been gaining much attention over the previous years due to the popularity of the songs and rappers. As the study brings out, the line is beginning to blur; rap icons like Busta Rhymes, Jay-Z, TI, Ludacris and Diddy are all owners or advocates of certain alcohol labels.
But there is still a line.
Because these product placements are unsolicited and not paid for by advertising companies, it can hardly be considered advertising. The basic definition of advertising is an identified, paid form of distributing a message to a certain audience. Any deviation from that definition is not advertising.
Dr. Primack, the leader of the study, astutely points out that it is illegal to advertise alcohol to those under 21. He also goes further, saying that U.S. regulators and the music industry need to "look into this issue."
Whoa, let's take a step back here. It is accurate that rap music is quite popular with the high-school crowd, so most of the people listening will be under 21. In that case, it can be said without blinking that most of the alcohol references will hit the ears of underage people. Therefore, a conclusion could be made that the brands mentioned in both the songs and the underage-drinking survey could have a positive correlation.
But calling it advertising and bringing in some kind of regulation is a faulty claim, and foolish assessment. As long as the rappers and singers are not being paid by the alcohol brand to sing a song about their product, it can't be considered advertising. The songs and singers then can be protected under the First Amendment. The fact that teenagers are the ones exposed the most to this alcohol-referenced music is thereby irrelevant. Should the rappers be cognizant of who takes in and listens to their music? Sure, no argument there. But take that fight to the record labels, and not the advertising companies.
There are some cases where brands do pay rappers to represent a brand. The most recent example comes from Mr. Meth, also known as Method Man. Enjoy.