Reebok Pulls 50 Cent Ad. Spotlight Shines on the Difficulty of Aligning With Rappers.

David Kiley

I have been spending a lot of time with rappers lately. It's a long story. One thing I find fascinating about these performers is their quest for marketing deals. Remember when Paul Simon used to refuse to sell his music for advertising? No more. But the latest fracus over a 50 Cent Reebok ad in the U.K. spotlights the challenge marketers have when they want to tap into the most influential music genre in the world right now.

Reebok has pulled a 50 Cent TV commercial after complaints that it glamorized guns. Advertising Standards Authority spokeswoman Donna Mitchell said that over 50 viewers had complained about the commercial. As part of Reebok's "I Am What I Am" campaign, it features 50 Cent counting from one to nine in reference to having been shot nine times. Now, here's where it gets preposterous. A Reebok spokesperson said the ad was "intended to be a positive and empowering celebration of this right of freedom of self-expression, individuality and authenticity."

Oh Brother! Here's the deal. 50 Cent is a huge success, with four of the top ten songs on the chart right now. His Reebok line, I am told, is outselling Jay Z's Reeboks, which were already outselling Allen Iverson's. He is big money, because he's at the top of his game.

Rappers write about violence, poverty, women, sex, drugs, music, death, love, the food they eat, the cars they drive and the stuff they want. It's often not pretty. But it's honest. It's not "Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds" or "The Sounds of Silence." And it's not meant to be. You want to go through a truly comical exercise? Look up rap lyrics on the Internet, and size them up without hearing the performer sing them.

Here are some 50 Cent lyrics: "nigga that watch is nice/that's what you bought from me/that chain is nice/that's what you bought from me/them earrings is nice/That's what you bought from me?/Take that shit off, move I'll break you off properly/I get mine the fast way, ski mask way/Make money/Make/money, money, money/nigga if you ask me/It's the only way/Take money/Take money/money, money/"

One stat I came across from firm TMG is that 100 million people in America may be influenced these days by hip-hop. Advertisers have to decide of they are going to play in this space or not. If you want to leverage hip-hop, then there are no half-measures, because the lyrics above are pretty tame. And if Bill O'Reilly or Focus on the Family come knockin' at your door with boycotts, you are going to have to choose sides. Trying to play both the hip-hop street and the avenue of political correctness is not going to work.