March 10th, 2009

The Secretive World Of Product Placement: Branding Strategies of the Future

By Jerald Zimmer
BusinessWeek.com

Russell Simmons, co-founder of Def Jam, is the unofficial Dean of hip-hop. But in a conversation publicized about three years back, his attitude about product placement makes me seriously wonder about this music form and what it stands for. Or, maybe I just don’t get it.

We talked about the McDonald’s offer to hip-hop artists to write songs that the fast food company would approve, featuring Big Mac in the lyrics. McDonald’s then pays the artist and his or her company some amount of money—$1-$2 perhaps—per radio play. Simmons told me the deal was “all good.” But, he added, that the deal may not get off the ground because the firm handling it leaked the story to Advertising Age. Simmons says the deal was okay when people didn’t know how it worked. Now that they do, it probably won’t work. Huh? This sounds like, “It’s not a crime unless you get caught” thinking.

Year’s later we have The Kluger Agency, a brand partnership and product placement agency out of Beverly Hills that seems to be the leader of this secretive division within the music industry. Over the last six months The Kluger Agency has worked on campaigns for more than thirty artists including: Lil’ Wayne, Keri Hilson, The Pussycat Dolls, Black Eye’d Peas, Eminem, Ludacris, T-Pain, All American Rejects, Plies, Flypside, Maino, Flo Rida, and Keyshia Cole.

“Strategic Discretion is a must”, Said Adam Kluger, Head of Brand Partnerships for The Kluger Agency. “Certain things are clear to the public, like product placement in a music video, If you see the label, it’s a branding strategy. However, when we start talking about more in depth campaigns, like brand-dropping in a song, it’s important to keep things ‘under wraps’ as artistic integrity is more important than any marketing plan.”

When we asked Mr. Kluger about artists he’s currently working with on “brand-dropping” campaigns, he sarcastically replied, “Tupac and Buddy Holly, next question.”

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