What Nicki Minaj & Travis Scott Beef Means for Your Marketing Strategy
When you love data and music as I much as I do, you end up spending a ridiculous amount of time analyzing the Billboard charts. Fortunately, I have a friend who indulges me in this bad habit and regularly spend hours discussing why certain artists are flopping and/or hitting. So, of course we’ve been talking about the latest beef in pop rap music – Nicki Minaj vs. Travis Scott. From this beef, I think marketers can take away a few lessons.
1) Calling yourself “the best” is an awful messaging strategy and it’s bound to blow up in your face.
If you’re unfamiliar with Nicki Minaj’s body of work, it can be summarized by her most often used bar (rap lyric): “all these bitches is my sons.” Lyrically, Nicki is all about claiming her position on the top. She is the ultimate, she is the Queen, she is above all others. In order to support her claims, she often cites how much she gets paid for a feature, how many of her features have been on the Billboard 100, and how many albums she sells.
Someone on Nicki’s team should have reminded her that no one stays on top forever, and the title of Queen is given, not taken. But no one told Nicki this, so her brand image took a hit when Cardi B, a new female rapper beat several of Nicki’s financial / Billboard records. Nicki’s image took another hit, when her latest album didn’t debut at #1. It debuted at a formidable #2.
How can you be the best if you’re #2. Brands should always be careful of branding themselves by their position in the market. That position is always subject to change.
2) Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
Nicki had a bit of a public meltdown due to her “low” debut numbers and immediately decided to attack the guy who held the number one spot, Travis Scott. She essentially accused him of gaming the system, using a merchandising strategy that boosted his numbers and using the promotional avenues available to him (his girlfriend Kylie Jenner and baby Stormi) in order to boost his numbers.
She received major backlash from this and attempted to walk it back, claiming she didn’t really care, but facts were facts. Music is a business and in business, you can’t fault your competitors for being more resourceful than you are. You can hate the game, but you have to learn how to play it. Hating the player isn’t an option.
3) When people stop buying, diversify.
A big part of this beef has been over merchandising. It’s a known fact that people don’t buy albums like they used to, so in order to increase their sales, artists have been creating merchandise bundles that include albums. Nicki Minaj is selling t-shirt and album bundles (super uncreative, right?). Travis Scott released an entire collection of clothing with other little goodies like ashtrays and skateboards. Ariana Grande, who’s on the same label as Nicki, had an extensive clothing line as well while also selling extras like fanny packs and fragrances.
Nicki “lost” because she sucked at merchandising. When your core product sees waning sales, you have to diversify or rethink how you’re merchandising your item to drive sales.
4) Exclusivity and urgency are still important aspects of product messaging.
Travis Scott’s merchandising plan was especially successful because he positioned it as an exclusive collection. It was only available for ten days. It drove urgency. If you search for the collection now, you’ll see that there are countless pieces up on reselling websites. This could be from people making impulsive purchases that they quickly regret but this could also be driven from hypebeast and reselling cultures. Resellers and hypebeasts are both obsessed with exclusive collections, resellers to make a profit and hypebeasts to have something no one else does.
Since his album was bundled with many if not all of these products, Travis was able to sell his album to people who would not have bought it otherwise.
5) Marketing can’t save a shitty product.
One of the criticisms leveled against Travis was the fact that he had his girlfriend and baby mama, Kylie Jenner, promote his merch to her 113 million followers on Instagram. This is a fair criticism. I’m sure most businesses would love a free shout out from Kylie Jenner. However, Kylie has promoted rap albums before, namely the albums of her ex-boyfriend, Tyga. All of Tyga’s albums after his relationship with Kylie were floptastic, which is proof positive that promotion isn’t everything.
Ensuring your product, messaging, and merchandising is on point is important to ensuring that your promotion efforts provide the greatest impact.
In any businesses, music included, it’s important hone in on messaging you can stand by. It’s also important to be reactive to your market. When your messaging begins to fail or your sales begin to slow down, you have to get creative and make a change. The market and your competitors aren’t going to slow down just because you can’t keep up.