Eric Leong
Aug 29, 2013

Beneath the bling: Look to hip-hop for your next great insight

A strategic planner finds campaign-worthy insights and inspiration in music from the likes of Kanye West, Jay-Z and The Notorious B.I.G.

Eric Leong
Eric Leong

There are two reasons why I love hip-hop.

The first is that the elements of beats, wordplay and flow all come together to create a unique and ultra-catchy style of lyrical poetry unlike any other form of music on the planet.

The second, less obvious, reason is that lying beneath the expletives, violence, misogyny and braggadocio typically associated with hip-hop is a treasure trove full of sharp observations, commentary and truths about society and the human condition. To the discerning listener, these are the true gems of hip-hop that stop you in your tracks and make you pause, ponder and reflect on some of the lines being put out by the world’s greatest rappers.

As strategic planners in creative advertising agencies, we commonly refer to these nuggets of wisdom as ‘insights’ and a large part of our job is dedicated to uncovering them for the brands and campaigns that we work on. By equipping our creative teams with powerful insights, we are able to inspire them to develop advertising campaigns that truly connect with the people (and ultimately persuade them towards our products).

The great Jay-Z once said in his illuminating auto-biography Decoded: “[They] can have greater access to reality; they can see patterns and details and connections that other people, distracted by the blur of life, might miss. Just sharing that truth can be a very powerful thing.” Jay-Z was referring to hip-hop artists, but he might as well have been referring to strategic planners.

Need convincing? Here’s a sampling of some of hip-hop’s greatest insights that just might spark your next big campaign idea:

On money…

‘Mo money mo problems’ (The Notorious B.I.G. on Mo Money Mo Problems)

An all-time classic (read ‘more money, more problems’). I can already imagine this insight being used in a campaign for a bank’s wealth management or private banking business (Tagline: ‘ABC Bank. Solving life’s finer problems’).

‘Having money's not everything, not having it is’ (Kanye West on Good Life)

Another great line on the psychology of money. This is the type of insight that could’ve emerged from a series of focus groups (‘Our research uncovered that whilst your customers are not obsessed with making money, they are terrified of losing money’). This insight would be great for an insurance company campaign (Tagline: ‘The greatest wealth in life is knowing you won’t lose it’).

On life...

‘It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at’ (Eric B. and Rakim on I Know You Got Soul)

Some old school wisdom from one of hip-hop’s pioneers, this gem would be relevant for any democratic clothing brand, or education institution for that matter (Tagline: ‘Your future starts now with XYZ University’).

‘Consequence is no coincidence’ (Lauryn Hill on Lost Ones)

A simple yet powerful truth on the impact of our choices and actions that would be appropriate for any number of public health and safety campaigns, such as for drink driving (Tagline: ‘It’s never just an accident’).

On love…

‘They say you can't turn a bad girl good, but once a good girl's gone bad she's gone forever’ (Jay-Z on Song Cry)

An honest truth from the male perspective. I see this insight powering a jewellery brand’s campaign, particularly for engagement rings (Tagline: ‘The surest way to keep her close’).

So the next time you hit a wall looking for that killer insight for the bank/insurance/fashion label/university campaign you’re working on, throw on some hip-hop, sit back and heed the advice of Vanilla Ice: Stop, collaborate and listen.

Eric Leong is senior strategic planner and hip-hop enthusiast at Grey Group Hong Kong,

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