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December 6, 2010
In Defense of Kanye West: Marketing Genius
Rapper and self-proclaimed genius Kanye West was recently in the news again. That should surprise no one, because Kanye West is always in the news again. And say what you want about his gaffes (“President Bush doesn’t care about black people.”), his supposedly drunken impulsive and childish award-show bum rushes (“Imma let you finish…”) or his actual music (including the over-Auto-tuned and barely listenable 808s&Heartbreak), you have to give credit to the man for one consistent achievement: constant media saturation.
If I were I a CMO, I’d hire Kanye on retainer. True, I don’t think it would be a good idea to give him a corner office, seeing that he’d be continually redecorating with live mannequins and then declaring how boring it is spending his days in an actual office with rules that require him to show up to meetings on time and act all professional. Yet, if I had a few products to sell and I wanted to new ways to keep them interesting and constantly relevant, I’d want Kanye in my corner.
Here’s what I mean: The old model of celebrity branding (which has now become the default model for all branding) is as follows:
Step 1: Establish buzz for new product.
Step 2: Launch new product.
Step 3: Find new ways to keep product exciting.
For Kanye and other celebrities, that product is a new album, video, song, TV show, movie, DVD, line of clothing, or perfume. For the rest of us, it’s soap or salad dressing or a new credit card -- something inherently uninteresting that ad executives are tasked to make interesting.
What Mr. West does so well is redefine Step 3. That’s where,traditionally,products start to fizzle. Marketers can only make so much noise about the “newness” of a product. At this point, they bring out the tired efforts like “it’s the perfect [product] to have around the office” or “buy one for your home/office/friend/mom” or it’s National (product category) Day/Month/Year.” You can practically feel the spotlight fading.
Kanye bucks Step 3 entirely. Whether by design or the sheer impulsiveness of his personality, he manages to lock in the media’s attention. Sure, he uses Twitter, but he does it smartly. It’s like his brain was wired for brain blasts of 140 characters, and 1.7 million followers have his attention. Outside of that dedicated core following, Kanye knows how to work the periphery as well, so that those who wouldn’t even like his music know who he is. There he is on Today. There he is on Letterman. There he is as a reoccurring character on The Cleveland Show (as an animated spoof of himself, Kenny West). Everyone from 15 year old text-happy teens to their Matt Lauer-swooning moms knows who he is. There is no oversaturation in Kanye’s world. I’m sure every brand manager would love to have that ability -- constant media buzz, constant attention, and constant consumption of a popular product.
How does he do it? He may have a formula. Something tells me by the sheer nature of his erratic impulsivity, he doesn’t stick to the script. He does what he does, and people stick with him. Crazy behavior? No matter, he’s Kanye. Impromptu performance on an airplane? Hello viral video for the next news cycle.
Some will say that Kanye, being a celebrity, is inherently more interesting than a run-of-the-mill supermarket item or other item we ad people must rally around. That may be true. However, given his dominance of nearly every media outlet, I’d say marketers have a thing or two to learn from him. There’s a lot going on in that brain of his, and we don’t have to wait 12 to 18 months for a new album to figure out what.
Kanye West could sweep the Effie Awards. The trouble is, he probably doesn’t know what those are, and if he did, he’d show up to the award show and claim them all anyway. Who wouldn’t love watching that go down?
“Imma let you finish, General Mills…”

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Brad Mislow is a New York-based ACD in both traditional and digital media. He has worked on Citibank, Toyota, AT&T, Mercedes-Benz, the U.S. Army, American Express, Hershey Foods, Unilever, DHL, Kraft Foods, Kodak, Amtrak, Miller Lite, and Post Cereals. For a look at his work and more articles like this one, go to bradmislow.com.

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