Social-first ideas are marketing campaign ideas that use social platforms to drive more conversations and fame. Currently, they are not only wanted but needed. TV has never been as expensive because of inflation and fame (and generating earned media) is therefore more important than ever.
At Leo Burnett UK, we stand for populist creativity. We build brands that speak to everyone and make us all feel something. So we often organise events with professionals from pop culture to discuss its evolution and how to go mainstream.
We are obviously super conscious that people care about pop culture but don’t care about ads. We however believe some principles and tactics can be applicable to the world of brands.
“I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can” – Jay-Z
In December 2022, we ran a session about how hip-hop uses social media to go mainstream with Finn Costelloe from the creator studio Exhale who promotes up-and-coming artists. We thought it was an interesting topic given how hip-hop artists use social media to engage their audiences in new and exciting ways. The talk was great and got so much excitement, we thought it would be worth sharing some of the takeaways more widely.
Before getting into it, we also wanted to do a shout-out to Zoe Scaman, the leading and thought-provoking voice on marketing entertainment brands and unleashing the power of fandoms. Her views very much inspired the talk and following conversations. We also wanted to do another shout out to the whole crews from Leo Burnett and Exhale Studio who also fueled these conversations.
In 2022, hip-hop showed us that some of the most powerful go-to-market strategies rely on a different type of social-first ideas. They are based on a strong fan truth, are activation-led and have different “layers”…
So let’s unpack this a bit together with a few examples…
1. Resonate with the fans first
This last year, hip-hop showed that fans were the gatekeepers of fame. As marketers, we need to recognise the fans as the advocates they are and engage with them more deliberately. By feeling seen, understood and appreciated, the fans will be more likely to engage with the brand and talk about it. So this isn’t about speaking to fans only, instead, it is about using the fans to amplify the message, ultimately recruiting new fans through social-norming.
The campaign for the album “Her Loss” from Drake and 21 Savage for instance, is based on a strong fan truth. Fans are not impressed by big music promos anymore, they want new things that are different, with humour and controversy. Because of that, the artists went “meta” and parodied all traditional music marketing tactics. They created fake Vogue covers, a fake Tiny Desk concert and even a fake SNL performance. Drake & 21 could have done real ones, but they knew doing fakes will better resonate with their fans and make them talk a lot more about the album. Difficult to attribute the impact of the campaign but ‘Her Loss’ was No. 1 on Billboard 200 Albums Chart last November.
2. Think activation, rather than big idea
This last year also showed that to turbocharge their fame, artists adopted even more a PR-mindset rather than an advertising one. Instead of wondering what they should say to drive more fame, they wondered what they should do. At the end of the day, they are more likely to get a positive headline on NME with something they did rather than something they said (beyond Kanye obviously). That is why we believe that the best ideas for socials are at an activation level. They should of course ladder up to the brand platform but should be much simpler, immediate and action-oriented.
A great example of this is when Russ went to social media and created an open verse challenge. By inviting people to rap over his instrumental, he generated a lot of views and participation. When Russ ultimately went through all of the submissions, he picked his favourite one to be released as an official song. The song ended up being Russes fastest song to go platinum all thanks to a simple and aligned TikTok challenge.
3. Create multiple layers for multiple subcultures
As we know, the media landscape is hyper fragmented and audiences are too. This is becoming even truer at a time of an algorithmic culture where two people on TikTok may never engage with the same content. Because of the hyper-fragmented nature of culture and the fact that the masses engage with very different things, we saw more and more hip-hop artists creating campaigns with different layers, to speak to different subcultures…
The campaign promoting Doja from Central Cee is a great example of a layered activation in the way that it created different “leverage points” for different audiences. The song itself uses a Eve and Gwen Stefani sample perfect for the club culture, an 808 & Drill instrumental for the hip hop culture or even provocative punchlines for the meme culture. When we look at the campaign as a whole, the music video made in partnership with Lyrical Lemonade really spoke to the hip-hop community on Youtube while the acoustic edit made with @Einerbankz was perfect to engage with alternative music subcultures on TikTok. We think by combining these different leverage points, or by creating these different layers, the song gained mass appeal. Ultimately Central Cee debuted at number one on the Official Trending Chart with his brand new track, Doja and we would argue the different layers, or leverage points, of the campaign really helped him do that.
In 2022, hip-hop has shown that some of the most powerful social-first ideas are anchored in a strong fan truth that create advocates, are activation-led to be more talk-able and made of different layers to speak to different subcultures. We believe that in a time of media inflation, creating this type of social-first ideas is key. To drive conversations and fame and ultimately, to punch above the media weight.