How do you see music fitting into advertising going forward and not getting played out?

I never want to predict the relationship between music and advertising. I think there’s natural occurrences where the artist’s art form or the artist physically themselves can play a role in making a brand popular. As long as they have those shared values where the consumer believes that that product is something that, “I’m a fan of that artist, and I believe that product is for me.”

I think when those two things come together, like Lady GaGa and Mac, then I think you have something that’s special. And unless you have something that’s special, I know I’m not going to be a part of it. But where I see it going is more money being spent, more brands trying to be cool, and more artists accepting money for that stuff.

But we know, in whatever business it is, the cream rises to the top. So you go through the ebb and flow of everything, and then ultimately you end with the truth.

You see a lot of the tech brands engaging with artists because they feel like the artist’s content is a main driver of those technology platforms. So they like to do business with them, they like to engage in those relationships more than others. Depending on what the product is, you see a deeper and richer engagement with artists and music.

Nowadays, you can advertise on the web and on social networking platforms like Twitter. How has that changed the way you put together campaigns?

 

The fact that advertising has now shifted to the Web and shifted to Twitter and Facebook, helps me, because you gotta remember the name of my company is Translation. The reason why I came up with that name is because I wanted to take big brands and make sure that I could translate the consumers’ messages to those brands and those brands’ messages to consumers in a very transparent way. I translate the message.

 

The fact that advertising has now shifted to the Web and shifted to Twitter and Facebook, helps me, because you gotta remember the name of my company is Translation. The reason why I came up with that name is because I wanted to take big brands and make sure that I could translate the consumers’ messages to those brands and those brands’ messages to consumers in a very transparent way. I translate the message.

The closer the brands get to the consumer, the more advantageous it is for me. All I want to do is market the truth. Why should you use this product? What is the product’s benefits for you? Let the brand know which consumer group they should be marketing their products to.

The fact that digital media now allows that breaks down a lot of walls. You get a chance to get closer to your group. It works in my favor because all I ever wanted to do was get to the truth.

Television and big advertising agencies, that filters the truth. A lot of times—this is something they notoriously do—there’s so many other things they’re involved in that are beneficial to them, selling products happens to be the last thing on the list.

I’ve always wanted to be in the business of moving product, that’s how I always wanted to be judged—as an agency. Will we be able to affect product sales or not?

Bigger agencies seem to have trouble adjusting to the new environment because it’s not just this big TV budget anymore...

Yeah. Well, TV still works. People still watch television. People watch television on set-top boxes or flat screens, they watch TV on computers, they watch TV on smartphones and tablet PCs. It’s not like television content is going anywhere—television, they make great content.

The issue is the big advertising agencies—and I’m not saying all of them—but they notoriously would not allow themselves to think outside of television in order to get to the core consumer.

As the consumer groups started to break up and they started to say, “You can’t target me for this program necessarily,” all of a sudden, what was on television did not necessarily reflect the consumer group that you thought you were watching.

Back in the days when it was ABC, CBS, and NBC, and later Fox—it was easy! You put enough messages on those four channels, and you pretty much got who you wanted to speak to. You wanted to speak to kids? Buy Saturday morning on NBC and you get kids watching cartoons.

Now, with the eruption of cable and digital media in the last 20 years you now have much more fragmented audiences so you have to be very specific on who you’re speaking to and why. You’ve gotta know how to message that consumer group via the medium and what message to put through that medium to the consumer. It adds another level of complexity for a big agency, who was used to just buying bulk and getting people through mass communications.

Is there any ad campaign that you saw and you were like, “Man, I wish I had come up with that”?

 

With the eruption of cable and digital media in the last 20 years you now have much more fragmented audiences so you have to be very specific on who you’re speaking to and why. You’ve gotta know how to message that consumer group via the medium and what message to put through that medium to the consumer.

 

There’s a Best Buy campaign that just came out that speaks about how technology is changing as soon as you bought the last thing. I thought that was funny because that’s a consumer truth. I think that was great.

Believe it or not, there’s some direct commercials that I think are funny, like Cialis and drug [ads that they air] at night. You ever see the Cialis one where it’s like, “Look at Jack, Jack’s acting different today”?

They have those, those are more of the formatted ones that stick to the script. Like, “At any given time, your wife might want to get down, so be ready.” Those are pretty cool but the real funny is the one that’s like, “Look at Jack, Jack has a different attitude today!”

It’s not even about taking the Cialis when your wife is ready. He hit the Cialis and his confidence his swag is crazy because he knows that at any given moment [his wife might be ready], it doesn’t even matter. So he’s hitting the golf ball crazy, he’s just doing everything. He’s outperforming his whole life because he’s just ready.

I watch direct TV because you learn a lot from direct TV. I’m not talking about DirecTV, the cable thing. Direct TV is an advertising term, it’s a commercial that has an immediate call to action like, “Call 1-800-da-da-da” or, “Go to whatever-whatever.com.” They measure those results quickly.

There’s an art form to saying ‘1-800-blah-blah-blah,’ showing an image, and getting people to respond to it quickly. Those guys are on the bottom level of consumer engagement because they buy this time at night and they want you to instantly dial that number and react. And if that phone number does not work and you don’t react, those spots don’t work.

They’re on the front line of engagement because if they don’t turn a consumer immediately, they find out in minutes. I like to watch those guys and that art form because I think that the art of selling that they have to do, they have less room for error. And I like watching how they do their craft, the good ones.

 

What aspects of companies teaming up with artists to sell products have changed since you started?

 

When I started in this business, it was very early on. I worked with a couple guys. I worked with Beyoncé, Jay, 50 Cent, Pharrell. Beyonce and Puffy. They’re very discerning. They don’t do anything that didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do and that was cool.

 

When I started in this business, it was very early on. I worked with a couple guys. I worked with Beyoncé, Jay, 50 Cent, Pharrell. Beyonce and Puffy. They’re very discerning. They don’t do anything that didn’t feel like it was the right thing to do and that was cool.

I think the music business has hit the reset button. I think now, for the first time ever, it’s hit rock bottom and you’re going to start seeing the business go up again—artists, managers, record companies, and even brands started saying, “You know what? I don’t have to get the best and the brightest to create an authentic relationship, I just want to be next to them so their cool rubs off on me, and I’m fine.”

Artists were just like, “What can I do to get some extra money to pay for my video? Who can I get to pay for a piece of my tour? How can I get extra income by being involved with a corporation that’s gonna put me on television and get people to know me more?”

And when that aspect of the business started to become popular in the last five years, I kind of pulled back from doing artist deals because they just started feeling wack. The last big artist deal I did that I’m proud of was Lady Gaga and Mac. That made sense. And that was three years ago and still feels perfect.

So you haven’t done an artist deal in three years?

Well, I did some sports stuff. I did some stuff with LeBron and State Farm and LeBron and McDonald’s. I did some of that kind of stuff. But I moved away from some of the artist deals because it just started becoming, “I’ll just take the money,” and brands was starting to do it with them. I’m not an agent, I’m a brand architect. Agents do deals that take money, get 10%, and go, The outcome is what the outcome is. I’ve never subscribed to that.

You don’t want your name on a wack commercial...

I don’t want my name involved with wack relationships. If the commercial doesn’t come out great, for whatever reasons, that’s fine. The art is not necessarily going to come out the way you want it to be all of the time. But when a relationship looks forced and it doesn’t capture the moment and isn’t honest, I don’t want to be associated with any of that. Ever.

Have you ever seen the Memphis Bleek shampoo commercial?

I heard about that. It came out years ago. I like Bleek, so I don’t want to get into that.

Are there any commercials you did where you’re like, “Damn, I wish that would’ve come out better.”

 

I kind of pulled back from doing artist deals because they just started feeling wack. The last big artist deal I did that I’m proud of was Lady Gaga and Mac. That made sense. And that was three years ago and still feels perfect.

 

I did some spots for Chevy. We did a spot where I put T.I. and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in a spot together. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was driving the Impala and T.I. was driving his race car but you didn’t know that until the end when they got out of the cars.

I felt like I could have done a better job on that spot of capturing Dale Earnhardt, Jr. driving through the area—he was driving through an area that didn’t feel like Atlanta.

It would’ve rocked more like T.I.’s pushing that Impala, so when he got out the car you would have been like, “Shit, Dale Earnhardt was driving through that area, doing that run?” But I didn’t capture the run right so it didn’t come across right. Little things like that.

Do companies ever come back and blame you when artists you’ve brought to them, such as T.I. and Chris Brown, have legal issues after a campaign?

The companies always come back to me. I’ve been involved in a couple big ones like that. Like Justin Timberlake, who’s a class act, and what he went through with Janet. It just doesn’t come back right. It could be perfect and it just doesn’t come back. T.I. with the guns, or Chris Brown with the shit with Rihanna when he did Wrigley’s.

I mean, when you are a brand architect­—how would you know? Human error or circumstances, you can’t predict those. You’ve just got to be responsible in the way you handle them.

 

What are some of the blogs that you visit?

I think YBF is great, I think Necole Bitchie is great. NahRight. I think, WorldStarHipHop is great. WorldStar is like the TMZ of the hood. But I’m not running around all day chasing sites, it’s just too much.

You mentioned that you feel the music industry has hit the reset button. Why do you feel it’s finally hit rock bottom?

 

The truth of the matter is that there was a lot of people in the business that weren’t talented that was getting paid a lot of money and just being around. I think it’s now hit the reset button, and you look at the people that are still in the business and surviving, those are the same people that were surviving anyway.

 

I feel like it’s hit the reset button because the business had swollen. After coming out of vinyl and then to CDs, people were buying inventory again, buying their catalogs on CDs and it had this big mushroom because it was just a bunch of money coming into the business of people buying CD players and buying to the new format.

As a result of that, music videos went up, executive salaries went up. So the business had this artificial business model that wasn’t necessarily real. When the digital download age came in, it started to erode that mushroom and the business suffered a big slide.

But the truth of the matter is that there was a lot of people in the business that weren’t talented at the time, that was getting paid a lot of money and just being around. I think it’s now hit the reset button, and you look at the people that are still in the business and surviving, those are the same people that were surviving anyway.

Doug Morris is still there, Jimmy Iovine is still there, Lyor Cohen is still there, Jay-Z is still there. The players are still the players. It just hit the reset button so that people who were talented stayed in their position and stayed with what was going on. The great executives still know how to spot real talent.

I think that now, you’re going to see digital downloads rise again, for the first time in years, after a seven-year slide. And I just think that the business has finally found the model that works to be financially successful.

Which is what? I thought you were going to talk about the cloud...

I mean, whatever it is. They have found the model to operate the business, to pay the talent, in order to make money. When the digital download era hit, there was so many people getting paid and so many people making money in long-term contracts that the erosion of CD sales affected the business model. I think that the business model now is in sync with the revenue that comes in.

People are always saying that music like Wu-Tang or Mobb Deep couldn’t be commercially successful today because music today is “soft” or it’s “hipster.” Do you think that something like that could work today?

I think that everything runs in cycles, and yes. I don’t think Jay did anything wrong in the last album, his last album is incredible. So that means what? You can write great songs, great lyrics, and still have the core ethics of hip-hop values while staying commercially viable.

The problem is that the talent is taking the easy way out and not putting the work in to do that. Cause it’s too easy to get onto radio not doing that. A lot of artists are tempted or coming up with the art form that way. Not understanding the art form via mixtapes, trying to get your record on late at night, trying to get it in the clubs first.

It’s a different era.

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