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September 6, 2006
Complete Consumer Interaction
 
Adam Aziz is the Director of Sales and Marketing for The Takeover Group (www.thetakeovergroup.com), a Toronto-based design studio whose work includes online and offline projects for MTV, Ford, and numerous bands and record labels. In addition, his company AMA Cartel Inc. (of which the owner of The Takeover Group, Scott Willemsen, is a partner) launched HHNlive.com, a portal for hip-hop news and content, for which Adam serves as Editor-In-Chief. In an age where young people are ever harder to find and reach via mass media outlets, The Takeover Group has a definite feel for a new generation of consumers.
How was The Takeover Group originally founded, and how has the firm evolved over time?
The Takeover Group was officially created back in 2000, but the parties involved had been working in the industry and informally together for years previously. Initially there were 5 partners, but that has since evolved to 1 primary owner with a wonderfully skilled set of people working for the company.  As a whole the company has continued to grow at a rapid pace and solidified its spot as one of the top design studios for the entertainment industry.  Takeover also continues established itself in the corporate world and continuously works to expand its portfolio and take on new challenges while consistently being at the forefront of innovate design and ideas.  Takeover also does extensive work in the flash, e-commerce and mobile elements of web design.
How are you helping marketers like Ford connect with consumers and music fans?
The Ford/Lincoln job came through to us from one of our great partner companies, Inspired Soul Industries. The project itself provided fans at New Edition concerts with the ability to text message a number and get access to the website, where they could then download New Edition branded wallpaper and ringtones to their phone. Companies like Ford are definitely starting to realize that there's a whole other marketing avenue out there for them involving the web and mobile, or a combination of the two. Instead of spending all their money on advertising campaigns in magazines and on TV, they're spending some of that money to give their target audience items (in this case music) that appeal to them and at the same time working in the Ford brand into the equation. The New Edition mobile site had a strong Fold/Lincoln presence so fans grabbing the freebies would definitely be aware of who they were getting it from. Print and TV ads rely on the reader/viewer to take the initiative to then go to their computer and lookup the Ford (or related) website, while this online campaign provides a direct link and minimizes the effort required by the viewer.
How can online efforts help an unknown or local band gain worldwide recognition?
An online presence for musicians is the biggest part of a promotional campaign in 2006. The great thing about musicians promoting their music online is that they are able to continuously build a fanbase that they can constantly be in direct contact with.  It also allows indie musicians to eliminate the need for a record label.  As many people know, the record labels are little more than a bank that fronts the money so an artist can push their music on the masses.  The reason why the old model of the record labels worked was because in 1986, in order for an artist to reach say even 2 million people, their means were limited to phone, fax, word of mouth and in person contact (concert).  For an independent artist to create a huge buzz, this was nearly impossible or at the least years in the making.  We now see in 2006 that an artist can start a website and either become incredibly successful as an independent musician who can tour strictly off of an online following or on a larger scale, acts such as Fall Out Boy, Bad Boy R&B artist Cassie and Panic! At The Disco have received major label attention (and record deals) as a result of online promotion.  As time goes on, the major record labels will turn into powerful promotional companies as opposed to being the only option for artists.  The growth of online music promotion and "bedroom" musicians will continue to explode.  People always say that the art of music is dead, but the Internet and the independent spirit is actually bringing back the artistic angle as there is more music being made today than ever before.  It's so important for anyone in the business of promoting/selling anything to have a website and an online presence.  In 2006 this should be your first priority as times and the rules of promotion/marketing have changed.
 
Why did you start an online portal & community like HHNLive.com?
 
Answer: I began publishing a newsletter called the Hip-Hop Newsletter (go figure) in 1996.  It played a big role in beginning the surge of Hip-Hop online.  Today it stands alongside sohh.com as the two original online Hip-Hop properties still alive.  I made several attempts over the years to bring the Hip-Hop Newsletter (HHN) into the .com world and went through many failed partnerships.  In 2006 I was approached by the owner of The Takeover Group about partnering up and creating AMA Cartel Inc. (parent company of HHNLive.com).  While the Hip-Hop .com world is a crowded one, we felt that HHNLive.com would bring a different vibe to the scene, especially considering the whole project is derived from one of the original online Hip-Hop properties.  The other key for us was to make it clear that while HHNLive.com is in its essence a Hip-Hop site, we wanted it to cover urban entertainment as a whole and be a one-stop for everything that’s important in the life of the urban entertainment fan.  As the saying goes, you've got to "think outside the box" and that's something most Hip-Hop/urban properties don't do.  We wanted to be that site.
 
Do you fear that hip-hop will lose its credibility if marketers continue to co-opt the music and the message?
 
Answer: Hip-Hop is Pop music now.  Unfortunately for true fans of the genre like myself, there is just no way around that.  The culture is an incredibly powerful selling tool for marketers.  In one way, it's incredible that something that started so small in a borough of New York City has exploded into an unstoppable worldwide phenomenon.  On the other hand, much of what made Hip-Hop "cool" and "rebellious" in the first place is gone as a result of the big business stranglehold on the genre.  Like anything in life, having a balance between respecting the culture of Hip-Hop and utilizing it to make dollars is the ideal situation.  Whether this can happen or not remains to be scene.  I don't think we'll ever see Hip-Hop in its truest essence ever again (mainly because Hip-Hop in its truest essence didn't make a whole lot of money...sad but true).  Roxanne Shante, Kurtis Blow and Melle Mel are great, but 50 Cent is filthy rich.  There is your dilemma.
 
What are the keys to designing a successful website that truly allows consumers to interact with a brand? 
 
Answer: The keys to a successful website are pretty basic in theory. In needs to look good, get your message (or product) across and be functional. The branding on a website should be somewhat cohesive with the company branding as a whole. You want visitors to your website to instantly recognize that it's your website and to be able to relate back to the website when they see a print ad, TV commercial or even your product carrying that similar brand. Once your have someone on your site, you need to keep them there as long as you can and give them reasons to come back. Community and user generated elements are a good way to keep people staying and coming back with minimal effort on your end. Give people something they want, don't overwhelm them, work in your brand and you can have a successful website.  The Takeover Group takes pride in knowing what elements to a site will work for each client and we work with them to develop a tool (website) that will be useful to them long term and will appeal both visually and informatively to their audience/fans.
 
What are the major misconceptions large marketers have about attracting young consumers? 
 
Answer: I feel the biggest misconception is that large marketers feel their message has to be "hip" or "cool".  The problem with this is a lot of large marketers don't know what "hip" or "cool" is.  An example of this is when companies attempt to incorporate Hip-Hop into their message.  While some have done this effectively (Sprite), most do the typical cornball, mainstream America version of Hip-Hop.  You know, they dress some corny guy up in super baggy clothing, give him fake gold teeth and have him going "i like fruit juice/i'm here to say/go buy fruit juice everyday".  In other words, large marketers know that Hip-Hop sells products.  That they know.  But the problem is they don't know the first thing about Hip-Hop and what it's about in 2006.  In addition, marketers shouldn't always look to promote by using things that are associated with a young audience.  Teens and young adults aren't stupid and can see through a forced message.  In many instances, it would be best for these marketers and companies to simply pump up the benefits of their product and service without trying to become the audience’s best friend or "homey".  It just looks fake.  And what makes The Takeover Group such a powerful entity is that its made up of people who know what's "cool" across all facets of business and industry.  Whether it is a recording artist, student association or major corporation, Takeover is able to get to the root of the message they are trying to get across and provide clients with a product/tool that will put them at the forefront of their respective industries.

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Formerly a music editor at Toronto's Mic Check magazine, Adam Aziz is the Editor-in-Chief/Co-Owner of HHNLive.com and is the director of sales and marketing for one of North America's fastest-growing design studios, The Takeover Group. Adam grew up in Toronto and attended Humber College for its public relations program.

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