Monster’s collaboration with legendary producer Dr. Dre on Beats by Dre headphones was pretty much axiomatic, a no-brainer if there ever was one. Much like when Dr. Dre torpedoed his way into mainstream America in the ’80s and ’90s — first through the seminal rap group NWA, then with his Death Row “inmates” with Snoop Dogg via the classic, The Chronic — he has produced another product that has bled into suburbia in a significant way.
A colleague mentioned recently that it seems that everywhere he goes around the country, he sees white youths flossing Beats by Dre, the super-sensitive headphones that deliver arguably the highest quality and crisp sound ever.
Which brings up an interesting point. Madison Avenue, the metaphorical home of the world’s most influential advertising agencies and decision makers in New York, has long known how effectively it can leverage African Americans’ celebrity to peddle its products to urbanites and stockpile the loot. Back in the day, screen idol Billy Dee Williams (Lady Sings the Blues) pushed malt liquor beer, Colt 45, while O.J. Simpson became ultra-popular to middle-America for dashing through airports in those unforgettable Avis rental car commercials in the ’70s. Interestingly enough, Dr. Dre’s idol, from whom he derived his stage moniker, Julius “Dr. J” Erving, was easily the most popular NBA player and commercial endorser in the early 1980s — that is before his acrobatic successor, Michael Jordan, took the endorsement game to historic heights. And MJ has sold tens of millions of Nike shoes. People literally killed for a pair. So corporations know what time it is.
In fact, corporations love African American celebrities so much that they even use a dead one to pander to the public. Revered guitarist Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Funk headphone commercials have become ubiquitous on TV.
“It’s truly vital to our customer base,” explains Mark Rooks, Pepsi’s senior marketing manager of multicultural marketing, talking to Black Enterprise. “Not only does that celebrity bring new value, excitement, or humor but they bring an energy and memorability that you don’t get sometimes with non-celebrity advertising.” Over the years, Pepsi has optioned the images of a bevy of African American celebrities for general market and targeted advertising, including Shaquille O’Neal, Mary J. Blige, Halle Berry, Wyclef Jean and Busta Rhymes, just to name a few.
Dre has some good company when it comes to product endorsers who achieve colossal crossover effectiveness. The reigning king still has to be considered Michael Jordan, who took the foundation laid by Dr. J. to unprecedented heights through Nike, then with a plethora of other products including Hanes and Gatorade with that shopworn phrase “Be like Mike.” Of course, Tiger Woods became the first athlete to reach a billion dollars in reported income, mainly off his relationships with, of course, Nike, but also Buick and a phalanx of other products and services. Actor Dennis Haysbert, who achieved A-level acting respectability playing the president in the uber-popular weekly drama “24,” has become the virtual face of Allstate insurance company with his formidable presence and baritone voice.
At least some athletes are getting entrepreneurial about the whole thing. Shaquille O’Neal, for example, required his agent to secure a franchise deal with Burger King before he would endorse their products. Now, if we can just translate the African American celebrity endorser’s appeal into beneficial properties for the black community as a whole … But that’s another story for another time.
Here is the rest of the list of top athlete endorsers, not necessarily in order:
LeBron James: Nike, Upper Deck, Coca-Cola
Venus Williams, pro tennis player: Tide, Nabisco
Serena Williams, pro tennis player: Tampax, Gatorade, Nabisco and OPI nail color products
Shaquille O’Neal, retired pro basketball player, actor: Reebok, Pepsi, Spalding, Taco Bell, Burger King, Radio Shack and many others.
Halle Berry: Revlon, Versace, Coty perfume, Harry Winston Jewelry
George Foreman, former heavyweight champion boxer: George Foreman Grill; George Foreman Signature (clothing) Collection; George Foreman Knock-out cleaning solution
Queen Latifah, rapper, actress, movie and TV producer: Pizza Hut, Cover Girl, Curvation, Jenny Craig
Beyoncé, singer, actress: L’Oreal