This past fall the NBA’s Toronto Raptors announced homegrown Rap artist “Drake” was about to become their Global Ambassador and would consult on everything to do with the franchise except changing the name. I have to admit it. I was immediately turned off. Does a celebrity really belong in the marketing suite?
The concept of a celebrity as a creative director/brand supporter is often justifiably met with a lot of skepticism. It makes you wonder how much actual involvement the celeb has in the brand they are promoting – especially when the brand is not linked to their own image. Often, the potential of the marketing marriage is never achieved and the union is an empty one.
Now, Aubrey Drake Graham, a.k.a “Drake” has pleasantly surprised me with his efforts. He is arguably one of the most talented Hip Hop artists in the game right now. Much to my surprise, he has taken on the role of ambassador with unbridled enthusiasm. Drake appeared last weekend on Saturday Night Live doing double-duty as host/music act and in his opening monologue announced his Toronto roots and the fact the city he hails from has a polite NBA team called the Raptors and a mayor who is known for smoking Crack. Drake is also highly visible at the actual games announcing the player lineups, acting as a DJ at half-time, hosting “Drake Night” at the Air Canada Centre where he gave away free Drake OVO Air Jordans, and even lining the inside of his jacket blazer with a Raptor player jersey. Drake is also expected to play a key role in organizing and hosting the 2016 NBA All Star Game when it takes place in Toronto.
Fans are not dumb and are understandably cynical when it comes to fake marketing partnerships. Once upon time, there was an honest transaction between a celeb and a product. It was called an “endorsement” with an exchange of money for appearing in a commercial or on the front of a cereal box.
Advertising Age Magazine did a quick recap last year of some fruitful and not fruitful celeb/brand pairings. “In the wake of BlackBerry’s recent announcement that Alicia Keys would serve as its creative director, critics pointed to her use of an iPhone days earlier to tweet. Beyonce has been criticized for partnering with a sugary soda brand while promoting first lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity “Let’s Move” effort. And when Justin Timberlake was tapped for Bud Light Platinum, pictures surfaced of him drinking Coors Light. (Bud Light Platinum smartly responded on Twitter: “Justin may have dated other beers but he’s married to Platinum.”)”. Ciroc vodka’s sales have soared since the marketer made Sean “Diddy” Combs the brand manager, CMO and spokesman in 2007. (Natalie Zmuda , Rupal Parekh Published: February 11, 2013)
It would seem the Raptors selecting Drake as their “global ambassador” is a genuine match. The combo of hip-hop and basketball is also a natural one so it gives both brands credibility, It also gives both parties added benefits. The Raptors get content and a recognized name to boost ticket sales. And Drake does not come away empty-handed either. Most recently, he was better known as the guy who got into a fist-fight with singer Chris Brown. This new role gives him maturity and the respect he deserves. Drake also benefits from the relationship by introducing his music to a wider audience and possibly create future commercial opportunities for himself as a sports executive. Drake’s engagement with the brand is real and authentic. Will it elevate the play level of the team (as of today the Raptors stand at the top of the Eastern Conference)? No, but the partnership will continue to foster new interest and energy while retaining what is familiar for both brands.