Moving At The Speed Of Culture

In a session which was originally entitled “Building a billion dollar brand” and had to be updated to “Building a three billion dollar brand”, Beats CMO Omar Johnson joined R/GA’s James Temple to discuss just what makes Beats so special. How did a tech company co-founded by a rapper and music producer lead to the single largest acquisition in Apple’s history? For Johnson, it is all about the fearlessness with which Dr Dre takes on the world, and the continuing creativity and bold aesthetic of other stars, from art-pop diva Lady Gaga to rock god Marilyn Manson.

Another asset to the company is its vast horde of willing ambassadors – Beats actually pay very few celebrities for endorsements. Superstars from the worlds of music, sport, and entertainment have been photographed wearing their headphones, but Johnson maintains that they actually couldn’t afford to pay someone like Britney or Lebron. “We’ve become the choice of the best,” says Johnson. “We’re an authentic part of their wardrobe.” This became even more apparent following the release of Beats Colour Solos in the lead-up to the 2012 Olympic Games, where athletes from all over the world were spotted wearing the brightly hued headphones.

“We’re in the business of creating culture,” says Johnson. When it came to crafting a campaign for the Pill wireless speaker, Beats and R/GA conceived a number of characters who embodied “small but loud.” These anthropomorphic speakers loved talking trash, especially about celebrities – and they were able to do it in real time. The Pills made their breakthrough at the 2013 VMAs, where they were seen throwing shade in the ad breaks. Thanks to a tip-off from the Powers That Be, Beats foresaw the Miley Cyrus twerking debacle, enabling the Pills to burn the star just minutes after her duet with the creeptastic Robin Thicke.

This focus on relevant, real-time content was crucial in the conception and execution of Beats’ “Hear What You Want” campaign, which brought the spheres of music and sport together. Its inaugural ad starred basketball player Kevin Garnett, and demonstrated how Beats helped him block out all of the criticism and prejudice that he faced on his way into the stadium. A similar ad, featuring Colin Kaepernick heading into battle against the Seattle Seahawks, sparked regional controversy as it was seen as “anti-Seattle.” An instantaneous decision was made to create an ad starring Seattle athlete Richard Sherman, which in turn subverted his public reputation as a “thug”.

“Culture doesn’t stand still,” says Johnson. “You have to react and produce in the moment.”

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