Reebok Silent on Rick Ross: Can Brands Keep Artists On Their Best Behavior?

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April 8, 2013 ‐ By C. Cleveland
(Photo by Vince Bucci/PictureGroup) via AP IMAGES

(Photo by Vince Bucci/PictureGroup) via AP IMAGES

Misogynist rap lyrics are nothing new. But last week Rick Ross discovered the suggestion that he spike a woman’s champagne before having sex with her without her knowledge was a step too far. After radio stations banned his song, the rapper took to airwaves to plead his case.

The rapper’s apology wasn’t enough for some. (It was pretty terrible.) Protest group UltraViolet delivered 72,000-plus signatures to Reebok’s flagship store demanding they back away from their endorsement deal with Ross. The brand, who Ross name-dropped just a few beats before the lyrics in question, has remained silent on the issue. But, should brands be called in to play the role of morality police, making sure the artists who make their products cool stay on their best behavior?

Rewarding & Punishing Bad Behavior

Brands have distanced themselves from artists for bad behavior or questionable values before. T.I. lost his deal with Axe body spray after going to jail for violating probation in 2010. Chris Brown was dropped from Doublemint after his infamous Grammy night brawl with Rihanna. Pepsi cut ties with Madonna and later Ludacris when they didn’t agree with the images portrayed in their music.

When brands align themselves with artists like Rick Ross, they know what they’re getting themselves into. Ross made himself rich masquerading as a drug lord with murderous tendencies. Ross’ lyrics are horrible, but Reebok would come off a little hypocritical asking their “gangster” spokesperson to tone it down. (“We like you coke dangerous, but not date rape dangerous.”)

Companies, especially juggernauts like Reebok, don’t choose brand ambassadors haphazardly. They strategically choose public personas whose images are in line with their brand, and the lifestyle they want to sell.

Why Do Good Brands Like Bad Boys?

Cortez Bryant, co-founder of management firm handling Lil Wayne, a rapper who has also come under scrutiny for his lyrics, says that companies are willing to take a risk on artists who capture the attention of their target demographics, even when their track record is questionable. “You know, in the previous years we’ve had hard times, but people ‘get it’ for [his] brand,” he said of Wayne’s partnership with Mountain Dew. “It just seemed like where they were going with their brand, which is all about diversity and crossing barriers, is the same place we want to go.”

Would companies like Reebok dropping artists like Rick Ross make other artists rethink their lyrical content? Maybe. Hitting a person in their wallet is usually an effective way to get them to change their ways. But, at the end of the day, it isn’t Reebok’s job to change Ross.

Supplying The Demand

If Ross is selling a lifestyle the Reebok consumer wants to attain, the brand has a successful partnership. Unless their alliance with the rapper impacts their relationships with their other customers, say active women, the brand has no reason to walk away from him. Let’s be real. Ross’ controversy, like countless other rap lyric scandals will most likely fade from the news cycle, his fan base unbothered. If Reebok did drop his contract, he’d just find another brand to align with.

Brands can’t be relied on to influence artists. The more effective approach for those looking to curtail offensive messages against women may be to look at why personas like Ross and the lifestyle of drug-fueled chauvinistic fantasies he promotes are so attractive to some consumers. After all, brands and enterprising artists like Ross will always and only align themselves with what sells.

C. Cleveland covers professional development topics and entrepreneurial rebels who blaze their own career paths. She explores these stories and more on The Red Read, Twitter (@CleveInTheCity) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).

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