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Hip-Hop’s Influence on Brands


It has been 35 years since its founding and hip-hop continues to thrive in urban America. Once a block party fad that started in the Bronx, New York, hip-hop is now a $4 billion-a-year-music industry that spans the globe. Although it has always been the voice of inner city youth and young adults, hip-hop has evolved to include the 25 to 34 year-old demographic segment. Proving its staying power, for the past five years hip-hop remains the top-selling genre over country music and is second only to rock music.

Formerly known as rap, hip-hop is a moving cultural force that first garnered the attention of corporate America in the early 90’s. When hip-hop made its debut into mainstream, corporate heads began to turn. Enterprising brand managers embraced the culture and soon realized substantial results.

In an effort to be a hip drink of choice, Coca-Cola’s Sprite brand began using rap music in commercial ads in 1994. Sprite Brand manager, Pina Sciarra affirmed that Sprite’s appeal as a favorite soda quadrupled as a result of the ads. Taking notice of Coke’s commercial success, Burger King and several restaurant chains followed suit with similar advertising approaches.

By bringing the edgy styles of favorite rappers to specialty stores, the fashion industry became a key contributor to hip-hop’s brand influence. Department store retailers such as Macy’s took notice and filled their racks with the likes of FUBU, Phat Farm, Mecca, ENYCE, G-Unit, and Apple Bottoms. Traditional designers even realized revenue potential in the hip-hop market. In 1999, Tommy Hilfiger reported a significant increase in annual sales after tailoring his line for “the hip-hop set.” Sportswear giant, Nike expanded its celebrity-advertising list to include hip-hop artist, Nelly. In 2003, Nike released 1,000 pairs of the rapper’s $120 limited edition Air Derrty sneaker. The sneakers reportedly sold out within hours. Luxe designer, Louis Vuitton recently jumped on the hip-hop brand wagon by making musician, solo artist, and Grammy award producer, Pharrell Williams its “new face” for the brand’s 2006-2007 line of Italian suitcases and bags.

Today, the hip-hop influenced urban apparel market does $2.2 billion in annual sales, which includes a celebrity-based designer list from the likes of singer, Beyonce Knowles to entertainment magnate, Sean “Diddy” Combs.

Among its influences, hip-hop transcends boundaries in politics, music, fashion, and other forms of entertainment. With 100 million fans worldwide, hip-hop also dominates many parts of mainstream media. Filmmakers, television show writers, and print publishers for example, are among media professionals who readily incorporate hip-hop lingo and fashion concepts in their products.

Despite the often-negative connotations associated with the culture, booming balance sheets continue to compel companies to use hip-hop’s market appeal to gain leverage.



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