Why Kanye West Is Running for President

Kanye West is possibly the most polarizing celebrity alive. He is also a billionaire capitalist, with a clothing line and music to promote. Creating the moment, a tactic Kanye has perfected, serves his business aspirations well. That’s exactly what he was doing July 4 when he tweeted that he is running for president:

Whereupon:

  • Elon Musk tweeted his support.
  • Journalists everywhere, no doubt cranky about interrupting their Independence Day, dutifully covered the announcement. Within a few hours, everyone from The Los Angeles Time to USA Today covered the news.
  • Social media exploded, including speculation that West, who cozied up to Donald Trump in 2019, is trying to siphon the Black vote away from Joe Biden. It was as if Kanye provided a welcome distraction from a somber Independence Day amid a pandemic and social unrest.

In other words, Yeezy did what Yeezy does best: create the moment. It’s a skill he’s mastered for years.

#Kanye2020

This is not the first time Kanye has talked about running for president. In 2015, he announced his #Kanye2020 bid at the 2015 MTV Music Awards, and the reaction was just the same as it is now: social media lit up, and everyone with access to a keyboard (including me) fired off an analysis. At the time, I wondered how Kanye was any different than Trump, as both were (and are) known for their erratic comments and actions. This is what I wrote in 2015:

. . . the media coverage of #Kanye2020, which has put Kanye West on a platform alongside Donald Trump, forces you to ask: why is the white guy with the big mouth a real presidential contender gaining in polls, whereas the black guy with the big mouth is, at best, a farce? When Kanye disrespects Taylor Swift or Beck on TV, he is scorned. When Donald Trump makes disparaging remarks about women, insults Mexican immigrants, and kicks people out of press conferences, his popularity seems to rise. If Kanye were white, might he be treated seriously as a real candidate as Trump is? If Trump were black, where would he be in the polls?

Not much has changed since then, has it? And yet everything has changed. This, after all, is 2020, and anything goes. Trump has demonstrated that the Kanye approach — create one outrageous distraction after another, each one more outrageous than the last — builds loyalty among his core base. So what is Kanye’s rationale to announce a presidential bid, even though he’s missed the filing date to run as an independent in many key states?

First off, it’s useful to view the announcement in context: it’s the latest of many “look at me!” moments dating back many years. Within the past two years alone, Kanye has been all over the map, appearing with Minister Joel Osteen to announce that he’s both the greatest artist who ever lived and a servant of God, wearing a MAGA hat, referring to President Trump as his brother, and, most controversially, referring to slavery as “a choice.” Meanwhile, his business empire has expanded because of the popularity of his Yeezy line of sneakers. His new gospel musical has received mixed-to-lackluster reviews.

What does Kanye want? Is he serious about running for president? This much I know: for Kanye, being outrageous usually means he’s got something else to promote. Unlike Trump, Kanye uses outrage to build visibility even at the risk of alienating his core fans. So what’s Kanye selling these days? Let’s look at the two things he’s most serious about: being respected as an artist and as a business person. As to the latter aspiration, he said in 2015, “One of my dreams was to be the head creative director of the Gap. I’d like to be the Steve Jobs of the Gap.” Well, guess what: he’s just about getting his wish. He just signed a deal to bring his Yeezy line of clothing to the Gap in 2021, and as part of the relationship, he’ll have creative input into the merchandising. His financial stake in the deal is worth about $100 million.

But the Gap is in financial trouble as COVID-19 rages on. Kanye has every reason to promote the deal. And part of promoting the deal is drawing attention to himself. How does he do that? Through the art of outrage, a tactic that has worked well for him in the past. The numbers speak for themselves; Forbes recently announced that he’s officially a billionare, with his Yeezy sneaker line generating $1.3 billion annually in revenue. Kanye needs that Gap deal to work if he’s going to bring Yeezy clothing to the masses through the Gap.

As to Kanye the artist? Check this out: Kanye has new music out, a collaboration with Travis Scott known as “Wash Us in the Blood,” and he has announced a new album coming, “God’s Country.” He also said he will join his longtime Kid Cudi to voice characters in an animated show inspired by their 2018 album Kids See Ghosts. He’s also badly wanted respect for his forays into gospel (read more about that in my post, “Kanye West and Al Green: The Sacred and the Profane”). With music, it’s all about relentless promotion, especially when you’re taking your sound in a different direction, as Kanye has been doing with gospel (traditionally a niche form of music at best and hardly a money maker). When Kanye cozied up to prosperity minister Joel Osteen to raise awareness for Kanye’s gospel in 2019, the two talked seriously about going on tour together in 2020. COVID-19 put an end to that talk. Kanye running for president is Kanye’s solution. He gets the stage all to himself, and he can rely on digital aggressively as the two current candidates are doing.

Now it all makes sense, doesn’t it? Kanye has irons in the fire. And the fire needs stoking. Kanye has created his moment once again.

Content Is King in Virtual Reality

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Virtual reality believers have had a lot to smile about lately, as Facebook and Google took big steps to make VR mainstream.

On October 4, Google launched its anticipated $79 Daydream View VR headset, part of Google’s toolkit to embed VR into our lives through Google’s ecosystem, whether we’re watching concerts on YouTube or navigate Google Maps. Two days later, Mark Zuckerberg wowed the technology industry by showing off a slick VR demo at the Oculus Connect developer summit, which showed how quickly Facebook is delivering on Zuckerberg’s vision to transformation social media into social VR.

These are indeed good reasons to be excited about the future of VR. But you know what really made me feel passionate about VR in recent weeks? Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

Yep, an iconic song that was released more than 40 years ago gave me a more compelling glimpse of the future than any demos and new products coming out of Silicon Valley recently. Last month, Queen, Google Play, and studio Enosis VR collaborated to create The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience, an app that presents Queen’s masterpiece as an immersive journey “through frontman Freddie Mercury’s subconscious mind,” in Google’s words. After you download the app, you can experience the song with or without Google Cardboard in Android or iOS, as I did one recent afternoon. (Google Cardboard enables the VR experience, but without the viewer, you can still enjoy the song with a 360-degree view by tilting your screen — not quite VR, but a step toward it.)

And by “experience the song,” I do mean experience. Here is an inspiring, visually stunning re-imagining of Queen’s most endearing work. Drawing on animation that reminds me of Yellow Submarine, the video depicts a world of stars, floating snails, twirling figurines, moving album covers, forbidden caves, and members of Queen exploding in neon — just within the first few minutes of the six-minute epic.

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God knows how many times I had heard “Bohemian Rhapsody” before seeing the song this way. It’s the kind of song that I stop what I’m doing and pay close attention to each time I hear it. “Bohemian Rhapsody” doesn’t need VR to be memorable. But VR gave me a fresh perspective. It made me experience the music in a new way by using spatialized sound, or sound that corresponds to different segments of a video depending on how you turn your head.

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“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the latest example of how Google is partnering with artists to show us the possibilities of VR. For example, through Google Spotlight Stories, Google and directors such as Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) make short movies in VR. And on October 16, the 600th episode of The Simpsons will feature a virtual reality sight gag developed with Google. “Bohemian Rhapsody” is probably Google’s most ambitious creative partnership yet. The song speaks to multiple generations and has become so far embedded in popular culture that future generations will be singing along with Freddie Mercury in 2926. The app entailed a collaboration with Queen guitarist Brian May, a braniac who has a PhD in astronomy and who also just happened to help develop a VR viewer through his directorship of The London Stereoscopic Company.

The Bohemian Rhapsody Experience illustrates two essential truths about VR:

1. The Content Has to Be Great

“Bohemian Rhapsody” is great. But “We Built This City” would suck in any reality. If you start with terrible content, experiencing VR is about as compelling as watching Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides in 3D: virtual crap. By working with acclaimed and popular artists such as Queen and Continue reading

A Slice of Hip-Hop: “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD),” by DATz DEM

Are you ready for some gospel hip-hop? Check out “What Would Jesus Do (WWJD),” from DATz DEM, which consists of artists ILL Son and Focist P. The opening moments of “WWJD” evoke Marvin Gaye’s gospel side, with a soulful vocal floating above strings before ILL Son and Focist P trade raps about Jesus, Psalm 23, and the joys of spirituality (they name check televangelist Creflo Dollar for good measure).

The lyrics are an unabashed expression of the Christian faith and a condemnation of all things evil.  “The devil is a lie, that’s why people be killing,” they rap, “Robbing and stealing sometimes for no reason/Cutting down trees in the Garden of Eden/The Snake got you eatin’ forbidden fruit/So the question is for you/What would Jesus do.”

“WWJD” is an affirmation of life (“Every day above ground is a wonderful day”) and faith (Jesus “delivers us from evil like a Greyhound bus”). “WWJD” is also ILL Son’s first foray into gospel hip-hop and a departure from the romantic, secular “Wait for Me,” which I featured on Superhype earlier this year.

In an email interview with me, ILL Son explained that “WWJD” is “a direct reflection of how I have been pursuing my dreams for 15 years and counting; and no matter how long it takes, we shall achieve our goals.” He believes the spirituality of “WWJD” co-exists comfortably with more secular material because both types of songs simply reflect what he and Focist P are feeling from moment to moment.

“I just feel that however the music speaks to us at that moment, that is what comes from the heart,” he says. “We do not put ourselves into any kind of musical box.” He describes the audience for “WWJ” not in religious terms but as “anyone who enjoys great hip-hop music.”

This summer, they performed three shows (including “WWJD”) over two nights at the Atlanta Gospel Fest, where the likes of Shirley Caesar and Montel Jordan appeared (an experience that ILL Son describes as “a blessing’). Now ILL Son and Focist P are busy on a mixtape, video for “WWJD,” and a promotional tour.

You can be sure the experience will be inspirational.

For further explorationcheck out this site for more insight into gospel hip-hop. And if you are not already fans of Marvin Gaye and Al Green, I invite you to explore their musical legacy to appreciate how two giants of music mixed the secular with the spiritual in their art.

Taking a Vacation from Digital

For a week this summer I took a vacation from digital, and I’ve never been happier. My wife Jan, daughter Marion, and I visited our friends Kevin and Robert in their home outside Quebec City for nine days, and incredibly enough, we managed to stay offline almost the entire time. We wrote, read, explored streams and hiked through the walled city of Quebec. To document how it felt to be truly liberated from technology, I kept a journal scrawled in pen on blank typing paper. What follows are excerpts from my personal journey. This is not my typical blog post commenting on technology, marketing, and entertainment. But I hope it conveys a commentary in its own way about the value of unplugging and focusing on the people who bring joy to your life:

Continue reading

It All Started with an Oreo Cookie

It all started with an Oreo cookie.

This week the Kraft Oreo brand sparked a flurry of news media coverage and public discussion by posting a powerful Facebook image supporting Gay Pride Day. Now that Oreo has made a statement, will Kraft join the conversation?

The ad itself was simple, clever, and perfect for the Pinterest age: a gay-pride themed Oreo cookie accompanied by a post, “Proudly support love!”

Within days, the ad accumulated more than 280,000 Likes and 55,000 comments, ranging from supportive to critical — and the comments keep pouring in. For instance, on Friday afternoon as I wrote this post, Facebook member Jake Pisano commented on the Oreo wall, “I have a question. . .if being gay is so natural then why can’t 2 gays have a baby together hmmm i mean if it was something natural then shouldn’t they be able to have a baby.” Meantime, Facebooker Jocelyn Battisti wrote, “Oreo I bought some of your product yesterday just in sheer respect for your open support of equal love! I am a straight female who also supports equal love and I also am a huge fan of PROGRESS. KEEP IT UP!”

The comments exploded across the digital world, creating a firestorm of media coverage from publications such as ABC News, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, and The Los Angeles Times. According to Radian6, as of June 27, the ad had sparked 11,600 mentions of the topic across the web (and no doubt the figure is hire by now.) For instance, Music Mogul (who is also my friend and business partner) Jermaine Dupri triggered a passionate conversation on his own Global 14 social community when he posted an image of the cookie and asked, “How do you feel about this? Some Global 14 members asked whether the ad might unwittingly segregate the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) community. On the other hand, a Global 14 member nicknamed Crush wrote, “Why is this even news? It’s not that serious! I respect everyone’s opinion but I will be who the hell I want to . . .OREO COOKIE OR NOT! I am VERY GAY and VERY normal…”)

And in the grand spirit of user-generated content, consumers created their own images inspired by the ad:

Interestingly, Radian6 also reported that eight out of 10 of the comments made about the ad are positive with a disproportionate share of virulent remarks posted on the Oreo Facebook page — and suggesting that the media coverage overstates the controversy.

A Kraft spokesperson responded to the controversy by saying, “As a company, Kraft Foods has a proud history of celebrating diversity and inclusiveness. We feel the Oreo ad is a fun reflection of our values.”

I would like to see Kraft do more than make a statement. This kind of advertisement can do something very important, which is to invite people to take a closer look at how corporations like Kraft can enact change to make society more tolerant. Big brands can act as powerful agents of change through their statements and more importantly through their actions. AT&T and Disney are among the companies receiving perfect marks by the Human Rights Campaign for being LGBT-friendly based on a number of factors ranging from the nature of their domestic partner benefits to resources they provide for LGBT employees. (Kraft scores well but lacks a perfect score.) I see an opportunity for Kraft to lead a conversation now the ad has caught our attention.

A Slice of Hip-Hop: “Hotel x Music” by BruthaZ-N-ArmZ

The song “Hotel x Music” by BruthaZ-N-ArmZ has been going through my head for a few months now, which is a good sign that I should highlight it on Superhype.

The video for “Hotel x Music” seems prosaic on first viewing: a bunch of slow-mo shots of guys hanging around in a hotel not doing much of anything. But in fact there’s more going on: a group of hip-hop artists holed up in a hotel take a hard look at their lives (“”The fans . . . consider us popular/we ain’t goin’ nowhere/It’s safe to admit that”) while appreciating for the moment (“Cool life I’m livin’/Hotel lifestyle”).

My favorite moment occurs about 27 seconds into the song, after the band quietly watches the lights of the city outside the hotel, before an infectious  horn and percussion sample straight out of James Brown kicks in — a recurring riff that carries the song.

I first heard about “Hotel x Music” on Global 14, which is a social site run by Jermaine Dupri and source of vibrant communities who share lifestyle interests ranging from hip hop to relationships. Check out BruthaZ-N-ArmZ here.

And a child shall lead them

If I were an executive creator director, I would require everyone on my team to spend a day with children in a learning environment. Pre-teens are your future bosses and customers, and they’re already influencing purchasing decisions made in the home. Understanding how they learn and how they interact with technology can open your eyes and make you better at what you do. On April 26, a classroom of fourth graders showed me how their creative growth comes from “finding flow” (or immersing yourself in activities that make you lose sense of time), collaborating with others, and finding your lesser strength (or challenging yourself to get better at a skill that makes you uncomfortable). I blogged about my experience  on the iCrossing Great Finds blog. I hope you find a few moments to read what I learned and share your experiences, too. My Great Finds post is not the first time I’ve blogged about what kids have taught me. In 2008 on Superhype I discussed how kindergarteners taught me the importance of the journey and the power of pure joy. If you create anything for  living or for personal joy — and I’m guessing almost every Superhype reader does — find time to be with kids. Volunteer your time at a school. Find a local institution that involves kids performing community service. Even if you don’t particularly like being around kids — or perhaps especially if you dislike being around kids — I guarantee you’ll walk away with an insight. Embrace the uncomfortable and learn.

For more on the lessons that kids can teach adults, check out this TED Talk from Adora Svitak.

The value of small ball

My latest post for the iCrossing Great Finds blog reflects on a recent Social Media Week panel appearance by Richard Dorment of Esquire magazine, iCrossing Chief Strategy Officer Adam Lavelle, and Jermaine Dupri, CEO of So So Def Recordings. Dorment, Lavelle, and Dupri had a lively conversation about Dupri’s bold decision in 2011 to launch his own branded social network, Global 14. The lifestyle community has blossomed into a tightly knit network of 33,000 passionate brand loyalists who share Dupri’s interests that range from fashion to hip-hop. Dupri’s personal approach — he blogs and corresponds with the Global 14 community frequently — provides a lesson in creating brand intimacy. It turns out Dupri is a trend setter. Since Dupri launched Global 14, Lady Gaga has announced the creation of her own social network, and celebrities are forming branded cable TV stations. What sets Dupri apart:

  • His personal involvement.
  • How he’s used Global 14 to broaden his brand beyond hip-hop and into fashion, relationships, and other lifestyle interests.
  • The integration of Global 14 with the offline world, as seen through his recent Crown Life 1414 Tour, which saw Dupri visit 14 cities in 14 days to introduce Global 14 members to each other via parties he hosted.

The Social Media Week panel gained coverage in publications such as Black Enterprise, Differences, Mashable, Heidi Cohen’s blog, and PSFK.  As I note in my Great Finds post, I think smaller, specialized sites like Global 14 are resonating because they speak to people and brands looking for an alternative to the sprawling and impersonal world of Facebook. What do you think?

How well do you understand digital marketing ROI?

 

Digital is supposed to be the the most accountable of all marketing channels, but it turns out that measuring return on digital advertising spend isn’t so easy. Why? Because that most nimble and fast moving of creatures, the modern-day consumer, has a way of confounding the most determined marketer. We bounce from display ads to websites to Facebook brand pages as we make a purchase decision. We share opinions with each other on consumer review sites and through good-old-fashioned, face-to-face conversations. Our complex behavior has given rise to an entire profession of analytics experts who specialize in using tools and models to understand how and when consumers purchase goods and services. With insights gained from analytics, marketers can make better decisions about where to invest their marketing dollars — display ads, search marketing, social media, and the like. On February 22, through a webinar sponsored by the Direct Marketing Association, my iCrossing colleague Doug Bryan discussed some of the models that marketers can use to understand how consumers behave on the web. I provided live  coverage on the iCrossing Great Finds blog. You may read my post here and view Doug’s presentation via the link provided at the top of this post. Happy returns on your marketing investment.

How to write great headlines

You need to write a great headline to get anyone to read what you have to say – especially now, when your audience is probably reading your ad copy, website landing page, or blog post while multi-tasking with their mobile phones and laptops. But how do you write a compelling headline?Beth Fox, a copywriter with my employer iCrossing, has provided an answer through a newly published how-to article, “7 Ways to Write Eye-Popping Headlines.” The piece, which appeared on the Content Marketing Institute blog, offers practical tips, such as the importance of using numbers and lists and why it’s better to tease your audience with a little information.

“If you give away all of the important information in the headline, people won’t feel the need to read more,” she writes. “For example, the headline “High-Cholesterol Eggs May Lead to Heart Disease” gives away the entire story. Instead, something like “Breakfast Foods You Should Think Twice About” is more intriguing. It entices the reader to discover more.”

Writing effective headlines is so crucial – and challenging – that Copyblogger also offers an 11-part series (yes, 11 parts) on the topic. And popular blogger Jason Falls suggests tips from the perspective of someone who both writes and searches for compelling content.

Want to get practice with headline writing? One tip to get you started: go on Twitter each day and try to write something compelling in 140 characters or less. There’s no better way to get practice – and you can measure your success by how many retweets you get.

An update from 2016: since I wrote this post in 2012, the proliferation of content-writing resources continues to be a boon for bloggers everywhere, including those of us who sweat over the challenge of crafting the perfect headline. For instance, First Site Guide publishes a number of useful guides relevant to this blog post. More about First Site Guide here.