Drake and T-Mobile Made The Perfect Ad

February 4, 2016

Celebrity endorsements are nothing new. When it comes to big brand advertising, brands have always loved associating themselves with pop culture heroes. Nothing says Gatorade like Michael Jordan taking a long swig after nailing a game-winning shot. Nothing says Sketchers like an ad featuring pop star Britney Spears wearing a pair of the shoes. Brands know the power of a celebrity endorsement and are always looking for new ways to attach themselves to their popularity.

The issue with this should be (as we say over at BGO), pretty obvious: When a brand attaches themselves to a celebrity, it almost always looks like a forced endeavor. “Stand here and hold this.” Most of the time, we as consumers can practically hear the forced language and spot the well-placed product in a photograph, the celebrity saying something along the lines of, “I would never leave home without my .” Sure, our subconscious might forever associate Brand and Celebrity together, but that doesn’t make the experience of the ad any less overt. The whole thing is very in-your-face.

The other challenge that brands run into with this sort of advertising is that they try to draw parallels where there are none. “How can we connect rap star Drake with soda brand Sprite?” This was Drake’s first big celebrity placement back in 2010, and we can imagine the supposedly creative discussion that followed. “Picture this: Drake is in the studio, he’s struggling, can’t get the music right, when all of a sudden, he takes a sip of Sprite and his entire body comes apart like a machine—because he’s, well, from another world—and the Sprite courses through his veins and sparks his creativity and then he nails the verse in the recording booth, which will make everyone want to buy Sprite!”

…So, aside from the fact that if he were in fact a machine and Sprite, being a liquid, would do the complete opposite of “spark” his inner-genius-o-meter and instead cause it to malfunction, the ad as a whole reeks of cheesy, lackluster storytelling. And not only that, but it is yet another short-sighted attempt at a brand/celebrity collaboration hyper focused on generating quick PR and attention, completely disregarding both Drake and Sprite’s long term visions.

Now, let’s take a look at the most recent ad Drake did with T-Mobile, set to air during the 2016 Superbowl.

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This. Is. Brilliant.

But in order to understand why, we need to provide a little context:

Over the past 6 months, rapper Meek Mill has accused Drake multiple times of using a ghostwriter. Eventually, Drake responded with two tracks, one of which (Back to Back) went on to become the first diss track to ever receive a Grammy nomination. Just a few days ago, Drake also released the first single (Summer Sixteen) off his forthcoming album, Views from the 6, where he addresses the ghostwriting allegations again.

If a brand wants to tap into a new market or culture or country, here is where niche understanding of that new territory is crucial.

In rap, having a ghostwriter is a cardinal sin. What makes the genre so special is its (seemingly) honest stories coming from the pens of the artists themselves. To find out your favorite pop artist has a ghost writer is nothing new. To find out your favorite rapper has a ghostwriter is sort of like removing the curtain and seeing the puppet attached to strings.

Whether Drake actually has a ghostwriter or not isn’t the point. The point is that someone very smart (either on Drake’s team or T-Mobile’s team) saw this as an opportunity for collaboration. T-Mobile wanted a celebrity endorsement. Drake accepted the offer. But the way they executed the story was flawless.

In the ad, T-Mobile executives stop Drake in the middle of his performing his recent hit, Hotline Bling, and ask him to make changes to the song (aka – acting as ghostwriters). He smiles wide and says, “I love changes.” One exec tells him to mention that T-Mobile offers device upgrades after 24 months. More lyric changes are suggested to which he replies, “These don’t ruin the song at all!”

Why is this brilliant?

  1. T-Mobile inserts the information they want the consumer to hear: Free device upgrade after 24 months, etc.
  2. Drake gets to hold on to his “cool factor” by endorsing the brand through association, rather than coming right out with something cheesy and saying, “I use T-Mobile and you should too” (a resounding quality in his former Sprite ad).
  3. Both Drake and T-Mobile capitalize on the very recent pop culture discussion around Drake’s ghostwriting accusations.
  4. T-Mobile seems like a very, very cool brand by having the niche understanding and awareness of this public discussion surrounding Drake and the rap industry.
  5. Drake’s most recent hit, Hotline Bling, is the perfect song for a cell service company to attach themselves to.
  6. And finally… Drake gets to throw yet another ground-shattering diss at Meek Mill. What is more humiliating than being mocked in a Superbowl commercial (to which Drake is no doubt making a significant amount of money)?

In 30 seconds, this ad accomplished all of those things. And it does so in a light-hearted, seemingly surface level and obvious way. Drake’s Hotline Bling peaked at Number 2 on Billboard 100. He’s one of the biggest names in music right now. Of course T-Mobile would want to partner with him. Obvious obvious obvious.

But what isn’t obvious is the underlying story.

Except once you see it, you forget about everything else. It’s everything a celebrity ad should be. And when you take a step back, you realize that it was the simple and obvious story all along.