Honey G and new era of Bias, Brands and Marketing

“When I say Honey, you say G…..Honey!”

“G!” his younger sister yelled out gleefully.

Adam, Lillian and I glanced over at both kids as they continued this chant and eventually switched “hype man” roles.

Lillian whispered to me “who’s Honey G?”

I shrugged. As the cool uncle, I usually know what the kids are listening to.

“I’ve come across articles online about her. At least I think it’s a “her””

“Sweetheart” said Lillian to the younger 6 year old, “who is Honey G? Where did you hear that song?”

“I don’t know her but, Akin was singing it at school today”

“…and is it [suitable] for kids?” Lillian continued.

She was ignored as the kids ran around the room, in their own world.

I knew what that meant; it was time for the adults to investigate. We huddled round the Smart TV and pulled up YouTube.

The first YouTube recommendation was Honey G’s audition on X-Factor. Her chosen song was a rap by Missy Elliot. Out of respect for Honey G, I won’t describe her; let’s just say, at first sight, Adam, Lillian and I looked at each other and groaned in unison. Our pessimism was also reflected on Simon Cowell’s face.

She introduced herself and started off with a bizarre improvised rap, then she switched to the Missy rap. It was mediocre/ awkward at best but what struck me was her confidence and she seemed to be a genuine fan of the genre. She spoke and rapped in the same London accent, and for the most part with no forced “hip-hop accent”. In her own way, she was “keeping it real”. Long story short, she was put through to the next round of the competition. Simon still wasn’t pleased.

The next few YouTube recommendations were performances during the competition where she performed catchy old school raps by Salt n’ Pepa, Vanilla Ice, Will Smith, Tupac and Dr. Dre (sans-profanity versions of course). At different points during each performances, she improvised sections, promoting her brand. For example “when I say Honey, you say G! Honey…”

“G!!!!” the X factor audience responded excitedly.

Now, we understood how the kids, both under the age of 10, who had NEVER seen any of her performances, talk less of heard any of these “old school raps”, had got hooked on the Honey G brand.

In one video, she performed “live” for Robbie Williams and Sharon Osborne. As she walked out, they both made snide comments about her appearance and laughed smugly after her performance. I smiled. They had no idea what they were dealing with. They (like most of us) were judging her based on her looks, their biases, ignoring the “real time test data” that was staring them in the face (in the form of screaming crowds). Instead, they preferred to stick with the status-quo narrative. “If I don’t like it that means nobody likes it”. Ignoring the fact that Honey G’s fans had spent their hard-earned money to buy show tickets and they were cheering her on. Now that’s loyalty. They clearly found her funny, genuine and relatable. Honey G had tapped into the people’s hearts. They could not get enough of her. She engaged the audience at every performance and they loved it/ her. Now it became clear how the phenomena known as Honey G, crossed paths with the kids worlds and they were chanting the hooks from her performances. She had created hooks so personal AND catchy, that even people who hadn’t seen her performances, knew her hooks. Interesting twist on going viral. By this time, the kids were glued to the TV as well, demanding certain performances be replayed. They were even singing the hooks to “Ice Ice baby” and with every single performance, they responded to her “hype song”…somehow, this “rapper” had introduced rap music from back in the 80s/ 90s to a whole new audience/ generation. During one of her performances, she had the entire audience AND judges, join in a mannequin challenge. She had come a long way from that awkward audition video.

It was during one of the performance replays that I noticed Simon Cowell again. This time he wasn’t scowling. Oh no, he was grinning like a Cheshire Cat. He was bopping along (off beat of course :)) to her performance. He constantly looked at the audience for “visual feedback” and appeared to be listening to their chants. At one point, Sharon Osborne chose not to let Honey G through to the next round, despite the applause and cheers from the audience. Pointing to the audience, Simon actually told Sharon “they love her” but Sharon stood firm. I laughed at the danger of stagnated thinking. The people have spoken but she chose to ignore them. She let her personal opinion get in the way of “real time marketing data”.

Eventually, Adam and Lillian dragged the kids away from the TV but all day the chants continued. By the end of the day, Honey G and her hooks were imprinted in our brains.

Resistance was futile.

Basically my 4 takeaways:

1. Create your brand and believe in it.

2. Engage with your customers at every opportunity. If they love your brand, the word will spread organically

3. Identify which voices to ignore AND why you have chosen to ignore them. Do not ignore data/ feedback just because it doesn’t fit your narrative.

4. Invest with your head (and eyes and ears) and not your heart. To be clear, I don’t think Honey G is musically “prolific” in any way, shape or form. I am a hip-hop purist, being a fan since the days of KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane…all the way to Nicki Minaj and Kendrick Lemar. With that said, I have learned that when it comes to investing, be like Simon Cowell. If the people are into it, ignore your biases/ preferences and join the party. It’s not personal. The data is clear and the people have spoken… ignore both at your peril.