In Depth: How successful have Indian brands been in tapping the rap culture

Rap is not a new phenomenon – with the Eminems of yore and the whole hip-hop and gangsta rap culture, along with the Punjabi rap enticing India’s youth over the years. But it took a film like ‘Gully Boy’ to bring to the fore India’s underground rap scene – and that too in Hindi. While India’s youth began rediscovering their love for this genre of music, brands have been quick to latch on to this frenzy, with several rap-themed campaigns hitting the air waves in the recent months – Burger King, Tasty Treat, Hopscotch and Marico are some of the latest entrants in this rap fest. 

While the industry is ripe for the growth of music content, certain realities must be considered before any brand embarks on a rap campaign. Film music continues to dominate the Indian music industry, contributing to 80 per cent of the total revenues in the music industry in 2018, according to the FICCI-EY 2018 report. At the same time, consumption of audio streaming applications increased by 50 per cent, not including YouTube viewers. That amount came to 150 million audio listeners, not counting the 200 million MAUs boasted by YouTube. 

The entry of Spotify and YT Music is seen as giving a further boost to the audio streaming industry, especially in the urban metros. Tier 2 and 3 markets also account for a sizeable portion of the total listenership, with 50 per cent of the listenership coming from outside the top 8 metros, as per the FICCI-EY 2018 report. Local players like Gaana and Jio Saavn are already creating platform loyalists in this market with their regional music offerings. 

User generated short content platform TikTok has caught the attention of brands targeting the next big buyers in the Indian market, that is, the millennials. 

Gully Boy hype train 

Prachi Mohapatra
Prachi Mohapatra

In the wake of the ‘Gully Boy’ hype, fashion brand fbb “pounced on the opportunity” and released a music video with artist Naezy, a well-known name in the underground rap scene. 

“The entire hip-hop culture and underground rap scene has been brought forward by the movie ‘Gully Boy’. That is something that captured the attention of the audience and quite effectively so. The success of ‘Gully Boy’ gave us the topicality and understanding that hip-hop culture has got a vocal voice in the market,” remarked Prachi Mohapatra, CMO, fbb

Amid the plethora of brands that had chimed in on the ‘Gully Boy’ hype, fbb was able to stand out because “‘Gully Boy’ was about the style and shape that hip-hop music culture takes in India. As fbb is India’s fashion hub, we have a brand motto to fulfil. We wanted to advertise fashion to the country and this was exactly what ‘Gully Boy’ was doing, that is, taking rap culture to the nooks and corners of the country. Even somebody who is not into hip-hop culture was looking at this movie and was willing to give it a try and see if it works for them,” according to Mohapatra

Giving her insight on this latest phenomenon, Kavita Natarajan, Regional Head - Account Planning, WATConsult, said, “As video-led platforms, YouTube and Facebook lead the way in amplification. Typically, you would also want your rap to be popularised through music apps like Gaana, Saavn and now Spotify and YT Music. Making sure you get airwaves on radio is a natural extension to any music-led campaign.” 

Generating Conversations 

On Mother’s Day, children’s apparel brand, Hopscotch released a rap campaign to engage with young moms and the Gen Z audience via TikTok to drive their brand engagement. 

Puneet Sehgal
Puneet Sehgal

Puneet Sehgal, Chief Operating Officer,, explained that the main motive of the brand was to let moms and their kids have a lot more fun. “We have a rap challenge happening, where we are asking moms to get on TikTok and shoot a video of them creating kind of like a Dubsmash. Every mom needs to dress her kids in these fun outfits and then tag three of her friends,” he added. 

The brand began the entire conversation by releasing a rap video and followed up with the influencer driven campaign, where 30 influencers engaged the native TikTok audience to participate in the contest. The campaign was deployed across the brands social media including YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. 

Read More: Hopscotch’s Mother’s Day campaign records 2 billion views on TikTok

Ruchita Purohit
Ruchita Purohit

While it was odd that a kids apparel brand chose rap as their medium or choice to connect with new age moms, Ruchita Purohit, VP – Client Servicing, FCB Interface, maintained, “We are targeting the fashion conscious confident reassured millennial moms here. Rap is a short hand to reach them. It immediately brings alive the tonality we were trying to.” 

According to Purohit, another reason why the brand experimented with rap was because “Most Mother’s Day campaigns that we have been witnessing along the years always show all the difficulties that a mom faces. Precisely the reason why we wanted to show the mom of today, who goes through life confidently and is aware of the different roles that she plays in her child’s life.” 

Experts Speak 

Brands always have to position itself where the consumer is and in this case, the consumer was strongly attuned to rap culture. But creating a music video is not the same as creating an ad campaign with a jingle and marketers need to keep this in mind. 

Shameer Tandon
Shameer Tandon

“When a brand does a music video, they are not looking to do extended jingles or extended advertising campaigns. If it becomes an extended advertisement, it will never hold people’s attention because people’s attention span to see an ad is not more than 10-15 seconds not even 30 seconds. What we have to do these days is to make entertainment capsules because then people see it as a music video. While you do that you salvage some brand messaging or brand cues that do not affect the viewing experience of the viewer, otherwise you lose them,” remarked Shameer Tandon, Composer and Music Director, Music Boutique by JetSynthesys

While digitally geared audiences easily clock higher numbers in terms of consumption compared to previous generations, there is also a concern that such campaign have a shorter shelf life as compared to the evergreen jingles that come to our minds even today. 

According to Tandon, “Out of the thousands of jingles that have been made, a few have remained etched in public memory. Those got extra memory because they were seasonal and crores of rupees over many years have been invested to amplify those jingles.” 

Music videos serve a different purpose, opined Tandon. He added, “An IP once created becomes a destination. The viewer is attracted to come back again and again to watch new content. The content should have personality. That personality should also be reflected by the brand. It should be a kind of content you will want to see again and again.” 

Rajeev Raja, Founder & Soundsmith, BrandMusiq, expounds on the subject, “Brand recall is not the only parameter by which communication should be evaluated. For instance, beyond recall lies empathy. Today, progressive consumer brands are open to experiment with the customer journey lifecycle and are exploring several ways to cut the clutter. For example, sonic identity is emerging as a preferred choice for marketers and brand managers to engage with consumers at a deeper level of emotion and experience.” 

He further added, “Rap could be one of the mediums to connect with a brand’s audience. But it is only a medium not the message. Brands may jump on the ‘rap’ bandwagon as it is in vogue with the youth now. But we shouldn’t allow the execution to overpower the brand’s communication. Like in any content, audio and video must work together to weave a powerful narrative. Not just any narrative, but one that tells the story of the brand and its ethos in an interesting manner.” 

The Challenges 

Rajeev Raja
Rajeev Raja

Raja believed that rap anthems could be memorable and clutter breaking if they communicated the brand’s uniqueness, but if more and more brands adopted rap, then the task of standing out would become even tougher. 

Often how an audience reacts to a brand film might be quite contrary to a brand’s expectations. Especially, if brands experiment with an alien element like rap music without understanding its nuances a well-executed marketing strategy may hurt more than help the brands perception. A case in point is Himalaya Men’s campaign featuring Virat Kohli and Rishabh Pant that saw the two cricketers rap about zapping pimples with Himalaya’s cream. The campaign was heavily trolled on social media. 

Mohapatra of fbb believes that sometimes tying yourself to the right influencer helps like in the case of fbb. “If I consider Naezy as a brand, then he should resonate with any communication put out by us. There should not be a dissociation between the communication and the brand or else it doesn’t work.” 

Read More: fbb and India’s Original Gully Boy ‘Naezy’ Rap #INDIA Ka Style Anthem

Such associations are a rarity in the industry and brands typically continue to produce their own music videos from scratch without exploring any collaboration with artists or their IPs. 

“Unfortunately, in India film stars are bigger than music stars. That’s why you see them endorsing many products. That is one of the main reasons why you don’t see musical stars and their songs in mainstream advertising,” noted Tandon

Another significant reason is that brands need to be cautious about copyright law on digital. “It goes without saying that brands have to ensure that they have all their copyrights in place. Any production of such scale has to be protected from all lenses. It is also important to ensure that your product or brand message is being depicted in the right fashion without impacting any cultural or artistic sentiments,” clarified Natarajan

That is very difficult in the Indian context as copyright laws are not airtight as they are abroad. According to Tandon, marketers avoid using music IPs due to this reason, “There are a lot of complexities in rights issues in advertising. Abroad if an advertiser wants to get his hands on a music IP, he can simply make a deal with the record label. In India, there are multiple bodies which are all in dispute and the advertiser doesn’t know whom to secure the rights from. Even if the advertiser is happy to pay money, he doesn’t know where to go and buy the rights and fears if they use the song somebody will hit them with a copyright.” 

The Way Forward 

With audio streaming services becoming extremely popular, this dynamic might change swiftly in the course of a few years. Genres such as rap music might see an even higher traction and have even more influence on advertising. 

Kavita Natarajan
Kavita Natarajan

Natarajan believed, “Rap culture has gained a lot of momentum in the past few years in the underground scene. But it has taken a huge leap on the back of a major mainstream movie (‘Gully Boy’). Whether it is Big Bazaar or Hitachi, brands have ensured that they weaved in popular culture into creating fun, young content that brings in a new aesthetic for their products as well.” 

Mohapatra added, “Most of hip-hop will not be consumed by someone who is above 35. However, ‘Gully Boy’ has a traction which was beyond any kind of age and number. It was a vocal voice in all age groups.” 

While rap is in vogue now the value of engaging the millennial audience never diminishes through music, “In most cases the brands want to latch on to rap because it is in vogue. They obviously think that the best way to connect with the youth from time to time is what the youth connects with best. If the flavour of the season is rap, then they want to latch on to rap. Millennials are really fond of rap – be it the Punjab kind of rap, which is driven by Honey Singh and Baadshah, or the ‘Gully’ rap which is led by the likes of Divine and Naezy,” concluded Tandon.


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