What comes to mind when I drop the names “Petey Pablo”, “Mystikal”, or “Jermaine Dupri”? If you’re an incorrigible hip-hop fanatic, you probably know who I’m talking about. If not, you might be scratching your head.
Each one of the aforementioned rapscallions is a past nominee for Best Rap Album at the Grammys. In their respective years, they climbed the charts, courted the press, and won over fans — or at least enough fans to earn a spot on the red carpet.
Of course, there’s never enough of those spots to go around. But one rapper in particular has been suspiciously absent from the list of nominees, year after year: the one and only D-O-double-G — Snoop Doggy Dogg.
While Snoop has been nominated for a host of other Grammys since his career began in 1992 (including Best Reggae Album and Best Rap Song), he has never managed to receive a nomination for Best Rap Album, an honour bestowed to many of his contemporaries. Previous nominees include Dr. Dre, Missy Elliot, Busta Rhymes, Jay Z, LL Cool J, 2Pac, Biggie, Q-Tip and the members of Wu-Tang Clan.
Hell, even Puff Daddy was able to win the damn thing.
At 44 years of age (that’s 308 in dogg years), a nomination would be a nice feather in his purple pimp cap. But the Doggfather isn’t hurting.
According to a cursory Google search, Snoop Dogg has about $135–145 million in the bank, can charge upwards of $100k per show, is preparing to feature in his 36th feature film — a sequel to Straight Outta Compton.
While he hasn’t sold any companies (like Jay Z, 50 Cent, or Dr. Dre) Snoop Dogg has managed to attain something much more impressive than a spot in the billionaire boy’s club: he’s attained permanent cultural relevancy.
“Thanks to his incredible voice, his undeniable charisma, and his infinite style, he’s forever just one flow away from the top of the charts.”
— Complex Magazine
But I’m not here to talk about Snoop’s flow. I’m not hear to lecture on hip-hop history. I’m not even here to deliver a poignant millennial think-piece veiled as music criticism. I’m writing a Medium blog post, homie. Heads up for the beat switch.
How to bring it to market (like Snoop)
Hip-hop is eating the world — and the marketing industry is no exception. Tactics employed by rappers like Snoop Dogg are fast becoming the go-to way to accrue followers and attention, especially since “Snoop Dogg marketing” costs zero dollars and only needs a bit of elbow grease to get going. It’s been used by hungry bootstrappers at Product Hunt, Rap Genius, Unsplash, Reddit, and Vine to expand their audiences, although they’re not the ones who introduced me to the concept.
The person who introduced me to the concept was Younes — the brains behind Uniburger, and the person who gave me my first marketing gig. I call his method “the Snoop Dogg” for reasons I’ll explain in a bit.
Younes faced a classic marketing problem. He didn’t just own a burger shop in Montreal. He owned the best burger shop in Montreal. Younes’ burgers are among the best in the world. “Better than Five Guys”, “Better than In-And-Out”, and “Better Than Shake Shack” are among the plaudits he regularly receives.
But Younes’ shop was incredibly underrated. It was new. The location was off the beaten path. Its social media presence wasn’t (yet) colossal. But these are the best type of problems a marketer can face. After all, it’s our job to take an underdog— and make them the big dog.
Uniburger hadn’t yet reached mass awareness. However, it did have a cult following among chefs. After serving $250 plates of snow crab and craquelin de porc to their patrons, Montreal’s best-known restauranteurs will wander into Uniburger, order a coke, and chow down on the tenderest burger for sale in city limits.
In preparation for his shop’s second year anniversary, Younes wanted to organize a marketing blitz. He hired me to captain his social media feeds. Meanwhile, Younes took care of “the Snoop Dogg”.
The Snoop Dogg (n): a mutually-beneficial marketing strategy in which a small dogg and big dogg team up for a small-scale collaborative project
Here was Younes’ idea: during the week of his shop’s second anniversary, he would invite the city’s best chefs to prepare their own “remix” of the classic Uniburger. We would sell a limited number of these specialty burgers — one new burger each day — and profits would go to charity.
We called the idea “Uniburger Week”.
Neither of us were certain it would work. After all — these were famous (and busy) chefs! Nevertheless, we prepared the emails, clicked send, and crossed our fingers. Wouldn’t you know it — everyone said yes.
While we had pretty humble expectations for Uniburger Week, the results spoke for themselves: massive, city-wide press coverage — every day. Legions of new Instagram followers — every day. And the burgers? They sold out within an hour — every day.
Uniburger Week succeeded for several reasons. The press loved it because it was an opportunity to write a story about the city’s celebrity chefs. The chefs loved it because it was an opportunity to break out of their routines and do something creative for charity. And the people loved it because, well — people love burgers, yo.
So where does Snoop Dogg come in?
Nobody is better at leveraging other people for marketing than Snoop Dogg. He’s been rapping for more than 20 years, and yet in that time, nobody has been able to match his hustle and work with as many people.
In fact, Snoop Dogg has been featured on more songs than any other rapper. (I counted).
Uniburger Week succeeded by featuring a few influential people, but Snoop Dogg reaps the benefits of being featured at scale. He has been featured in over 1000 songs — many with household names, many more with obscure artists.
Remember “Petey Pablo”, “Mystikal”, and “Jermaine Dupri” — the rappers I mentioned in the introduction? Snoop Dogg has collaborated on at least one song with all of them. He may not have won any Grammy nominations for his efforts, but he was able to capitalize on the artist’s (ephemeral) hype and use the opportunity to promote his own brand.
However, does Snoop Dogg really need promotional help from “Petey Pablo”?
Surprisingly, yes. It’s almost certain that a few Petey Pablo fans have, for whatever reason, never listened to Snoop Dogg. And among those Petey Pablo fans who have heard of Snoop, a featured verse wins him even more respect. Sure, Petey Pablo gets more promotional help from the exchange than Snoop Dogg does. But if you do anything 1000 times, you’re going to end up on top. Now raise your hand if you remember Petey Pablo.
Collaborations aren’t just important for artists breaking out. They’re important for established artists, too. To drive the point home, here’s an incomplete list of the (approximately) 438 people Kanye West has collaborated with over his career:
Talib Kweli, Jay Z, Mos Def, Busta Rhymes, Dilated Peoples, Brandy, Common, Slum Village, John Legend, Cam’ron, Rhymefest, Jamie Foxx, Ghostface Killah, Ne-Yo, DJ Khaled, Pharrell, Justin Bieber, The Game, Fall Out Boy, T-Pain, Kid Sister, Jermaine Dupri, Estelle, Lil Wayne, Young Jeezy, André 3000, T.I., Clipse, Santigold, Lykke Li, Rick Ross, Kid Cudi, Drake, Eminem, Chris Brown, Stromae, Lloyd Banks, Thirty Seconds to Mars, Big Sean, Pusha T, Fat Joe, Miguel, Jadakiss, Future, Vic Mensa, Paul McCartney, Theophilus London, 2 Chainz, Beyoncé, Petey Pablo, Cyhi the Prynce, Chris Martin, KRS-One, Nas, Rakim, Paul Wall, Adam Levine, Consequence, RZA, Swizz Beatz, Nicki Minaj…
You probably don’t recognize every single name on this list of collaborators, but Kanye doesn’t need you to. Kanye only needs you to listen to one of his collaborations with one of these people to expose you to his music — although his personal batting average is much higher than 1/438.
(Keep in mind, Snoop Dogg has collaborated with more than twice as many people as Kanye.)
In what other industries are brands harnessing the power of celebrity via fun, small-scale collaborations? We’ve taken care of burgers and rappers — now it’s time to analyze another set of paper-chasers. This time, in the tech-world.
While Bill Gates probably doesn’t have the smoothest rap flow, any Snoop Dogg worth his salt would grant the DOS boss a guest verse.
The Snoop Doggers at Reddit know this, and use interviews with big-name writers, scientists and celebrities in order to grow their website. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, and Barack Obama and many other influencers have partnered with Reddit for short off-the-cuff interviews where questions are posed by Reddit users.
Typically, celebrities will promote Reddit before their interview, thereby increasing the site’s reach. In turn, celebrities get access to the 10 million people who subscribe to Reddit’s interviews. The interviews are fun and allow celebrities to interact directly with fans. No wonder so many marketing-savvy celebrities sign up to participate.
Unsplash is a crowdsourced photography platform that publishes free, “do-whatever-you-want” photos. Members submit pictures they’ve taken, and Unsplash posts the best ones. Since Unsplash photos have no copyright restrictions, members are free to use them for whatever purpose they want, like desktop wallpaper, album cover art, landing page backgrounds, and billboard advertisements.
*I work here. Sup fam.
Unsplash launched in 2013 and now serves half-a-billion photos a month. But how has it broadened its reach beyond photographers? With Snoop Dogg marketing, of course. Every week, Unsplash reaches out to influential creatives in the arts, business, and tech industries, inviting them to select their favourite Unsplash photos. It promotes these branded photo collections on its website, newsletter, and social media accounts.
While they are never asked to do so, influencers often share their photo collection with their own followers — thereby exposing Unsplash to new people. Previous Unsplash collaborators include NASA and Creative Commons founder Lawrence Lessig.
Unsplash is also testing the waters with “offline” Snoop Dogging: as of last week, it began raising funds for a photography book made with over 100 collaborators. With so many people involved in the book’s creation, the Unsplash Book has a built-in promotional network. Besides the obvious allure of beautiful photos, its promotional network is one reason its Kickstarter is running so smoothly. Check out the book here if you’re curious (profits go to the contributing artists).
What makes Vine unique among the case studies here is that Snoop Dogg marketing isn’t being used by Vine’s management to get more marketshare. Rather, it’s being employed by Vine’s users.
Vine is a platform for sharing short, looping video clips. In addition to attracting celebrity users (like Snoop) it’s been able to mint several “Viners” as celebrities in their own right.
The biggest Viners now have millions of followers, endorsement deals, and flashy Hollywood gigs. Perhaps what’s even more crazy is that 6 of the 15 biggest Viners live in the same apartment building.
Viners have moved from Ohio, Florida, France and Canada to gain access to a private compound on Hollywood’s Vine Street (seriously). And it’s strictly for business reasons:
By being in close proximity to one another, the kings and queens of Vine Street can appear in each other’s videos — which makes mutual self-promotion much easier.
The top Vine videos rarely feature just one individual. Like rappers, there’s usually many collaborators involved. Collaborators will tag each other in their videos, and reblog the videos of their neighbours. So if you follow any one of the Vine Street Viners, it’s inevitable that you’ll eventually encounter all six.
Of course, this is collaboration taken to an extreme — it’s hardly the small scale variety that most marketers are capable of pulling off. While it’s hard to “out-Snoop Dogg” Snoop Dogg, the folks on Vine Street come pretty close.
In conclusion (with 3 aphorisms because y’all love em)
1. Good marketing raises all of the boats
Some people say that it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there. But at least when it comes to rap, burgers, and start-ups, it’s more of a dog-help-dog world.
Rap is known for its bitter feuds, but it’s the willingness to form creative partnerships that’s given hip-hoppers the marketing edge needed to conquer global sales charts.
“Fans were excited when crews had beef with each other…but even more excited when they got along and created together. Classics were made and money flowed into the industry. This created a tide that raised all of our boats.”
2. Good marketing is being generous
Snoop Dogg is living, breathing, blunt-puffin’ proof that the best marketing tactic is not to ask, but to give.
It doesn’t matter if it’s a Grammy-award winning artist or nerdy gimmick rapper: when Snoop is asked for a feature, he checks his ego at the door and uses the opportunity to grow his network of fans. This marketing ethic has not only earned him lots of green, but it has allowed him to remain culturally relevant far beyond the typical expiration date for rappers. And it’s all because he says “yes” when asked to help other people.
3. Good marketing is over-asking
Wow, I only have three aphorisms, but somehow I can’t avoid contradicting myself. Remember, like, two paragraphs ago, when I said that the best marketing tactic is not to ask, but to give?
“The best marketing tactic is not to ask, but to give.”
— Me, two paragraphs ago
Well forget that. Ask for more.
You can always cross your fingers and hope that a famous person will give you free air time. However, you’re much better off coming up with a fun and novel way to involve them in your product. Give them a chance to make something fun and for a good cause — something they can take pride in and show off to their own fans. Even if it’s just a burger. Or a featured verse.
Snoop Dogg marketing is a new name, but the business of collaboration is hardly new. It’s taken to extremes in the case of hip-hop, but it’s still a staple in most forms of entertainment. People invite “guest posters” to write for their blogs, podcasters invite “guest hosts” to participate in their broadcasts, and competing late night hosts visit each other for mutual self-promotion. Granted, the technology industry is only now beginning to catch on — but who’s to say that you can’t teach a new dogg old tricks?
Joe MacNeil is a writer from Montreal, Canada.
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