The past week or so has brought new music from two of music’s biggest stars in Kanye West and Drake, along with all of the attendant hype you’d expect.
But it is Canada’s own Drake who continues to demonstrate a mastery of manipulating media for his own ends—from “hacking into” the opening of ESPN’s SportsCenter to promote the album’s Sept. 3 launch, to creating highly meme-able album covers practically begging to be re-interpreted by consumers and brands alike.
Inspired by British contemporary artist Damien Hirst, the cover for the Toronto superstar’s new album Certified Lover Boy features a series of 12 emojis of pregnant women of various ethnicities, all cradling the unborn child in their womb. Not surprisingly, brands quickly sensed an opportunity to seize on Drake’s massive cultural cachet for their own ends.
Trojan Canada and its agency forsman&bodenfors, for example, ran an Aug. 31 Instagram post that resembled the Certified Lover Boy cover, except the women weren’t pregnant. It was accompanied by the message “We’ve got you covered for any upcoming album releases.” (ed note: we would have gone with just “covered for any upcoming releases,” but that’s just us.) It has garnered more than 8,000 likes and 220 comments in the six days since it was posted.
It’s a strikingly simple and on-brand message that appeared in an identical ad from Durex South Africa posted to its Instagram account on Sept. 1, accompanied by the message “Certified protection for a certified lover boy.” It has garnered more than 29,000 likes and plaudits such as “smart-ass marketing” and “brilliant advertising.”
Other brands were similarly quick to offer their own interpretation of the album art. Microsoft tweeted a multi-coloured image of its much-mocked Word mascot “Clippy” accompanied by the message “Certified paper clip,” while Crocs created a post showing colour variations on its famous shoe accompanied by the message “Certified love of Crocs.”
Individuals including celebrity chef Matty Matheson, food personality Guy Fieri and talk show host Maury Povich, whose show is famous for revealing the results of paternity tests, typically with explosive results, have also posted their own interpretations of the Certified Lover Boy art.
But brands’ attempt to exploit Drake’s enormous popularity have also engendered some cynicism among consumers. “Here we go,” wrote one Instagram commentator on the Durex South Africa post, perhaps already sensing the deluge of memes still to come.
And in a recent piece entitled “Brands, politicians, and people not named Drake: Your Certified Lover Boy memes are not good,” the cultural publication Slate also cast a skeptical eye towards the brand interpretations that have popped up in the album’s wake.
“Dropping nothing but pregnant ladies on a white background is Drake’s invitation for anyone with even the slightest Photoshop knowledge to grab it and put their own spin on it, so that this nonsensical album art can make even less sense,” said Slate, going on to call the various brand efforts around the album art “especially thirsty” and “mostly cringe.”
Drake in particular has proven to be irresistible for brands. When his album Views dropped in 2016, the marketing publication Digiday ran a piece entitled “Uh-oh, brands know about Drake’s new album Views” that showed some of the ways that brands, including Heineken, Cisco Canada and Porter Airlines, all put forward their own interpretation of the cover art showing a tiny Drake perched on the edge of Toronto’s CN Tower. “Brands, with their tendency to leave no trending topic unmolested, sensed it was their moment to jump,” it said.
It’s easy to disregard such efforts as cynical and exploitive, but if social media had existed in previous decades, brands would have probably attempted to exploit some of the era’s most famous album covers for their own means. Just imagine what they might have done with The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band or Abbey Road covers, for example.
Contemporary brands are simply taking advantage of the tools at their disposal. Creating brand-centric riffs on trending topics—whether it’s outrageous art or NFTs—is a low-input, low-cost endeavour that has become commonplace in our always-on marketing world.
If Instagram had existed in 1971, what might a lipstick brand have done with the Rolling Stones’ famous lips logo when it first appeared?
It’s only pop culture, but brands like it.