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India.Arie has a reputation for being obvious with her Mother Earth persona. Now she’s making her love for cocoa butter clear. It’s not just that the lead single off her new album “SongVersation” is called “Cocoa Butter.” She’s also partnered up with Palmer’s Cocoa Butter Formula for the new music video (available at the bottom of the page).  As if a chorus of “Your love is like cocoa butter on my heart” doesn’t provide enough inspiration for 140-character jokes, her latest music video positions her as cocoa butter’s answer to the Avon lady.

Brands Behind the Music

Lady Gaga is credited with ushering in blatant product placement in music videos. Before her, product placement meant the camera lingered on the product longer than it took for you to count to “one-Mississippi.” In 2010, Gaga’s “Telephone” video included in-your-face placements for everything from Miracle Whip to Virgin Mobile.

Brought on by videos’ move from television to the Internet and record labels’ attempt to make videos a revenue source and not just a marketing tool, this trend shows no signs of slowing. Music integrations were up 22.7 percent last year alone according to the PQ Media Global Product Placement Spending Forecast 2012-2016. Remember when MTV dominated music video distribution and logos were blurred out? The channel had it’s own advertisers to cater to. The Web allows advertisers more access to space in videos.

“YouTube and Vevo provide the best places for music videos to be posted with ads,” says Deborah Posner, an advertising instructor at The Art Institute of Fort Lauderdale. “Vevo, in particular, was launched in 2009 for the specific purpose of enabling product placement in music videos by high-end advertisers with free access by viewers.”

When It Works & When It Doesn’t

Lord knows the music industry can’t afford to churn out videos like it did in MTV’s heyday. Product placement helps the medium to survive. Artists get financial support often without sacrificing their creativity or bombarding their fans with overt advertising. Everyone wins. Until now.

Advertisers can take things a little too far. Watching Arie’s leading man smooth Palmer’s on her brown skin as she sings “You rub it in” is a tragic comedy that shows exactly where the limit on these arrangements lie: when the whole affair feels like a sales pitch.

“To avoid making the video look simply like a commercial, the products should complement the story, and not be the main attraction,” Posner adds.

Don’t Ruin This

Music videos are an advertiser’s dream. Videos promote lifestyles, and brands are always looking for ways to align their products with a larger community or feeling. Videos also have a permanence that traditional commercials don’t offer. “Cocoa butter” will exist on YouTube as long as the Internet gods see fit.

But artists have to remember to make these deals work for their best interests. That’s why artists like Jay-Z and Beyonce are signing up for creative collaborations with major brands (Budweiser and Pepsi, respectively) rather than simply being a spokesperson. They don’t want the products to overshadow their artistry. They don’t want to turn themselves into a pusher or a punchline.

At the end of India.Arie’s video, as the cream ribbons floating around her faded away, I felt like I had been tricked into watching a four-minute commercial for cocoa butter. I guess the joke’s on me.

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 (@CleveOutLoud) and Facebook (/MyReadIsRed).


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