Going With The Pitch: More and More, R&B and Hip Hop Artists Are Also TV Spokespersons

Richard Wolowicz/WireImage
Usher performs onstage during his "The UR Experience" tour opener at Bell Centre on November 1, 2014 in Montreal, Canada. 

Usher, Salt-N-Pepa, Waka Flocka Flame and newcomer Kevin Ross are among a growing number of R&B/hip-hop acts doubling as TV spokespersons.

Waka Flocka Flame left many viewers scratching their heads and wondering if it was April Fool’s in November when his television spot extolling the benefits of Pine Brothers cough drops aired during the American Music Awards. But it turns out the hardcore rapper is just one of several R&B/hip-hop acts who are presently doubling as national TV spokespersons.

The diverse list includes Motown/Verve R&B newcomer Kevin Ross, currently crooning on behalf of Glade air freshener’s #FEELGLADE holiday campaign. Also in the mix: Usherand a cappella group Naturally 7 touting Honey Nut Cheerios; female rap group Salt-N-Pepa busking on behalf of insurance company Geico and Jeremih, singer of the Hot 100 hit  “Don’t Tell ‘Em,” talking up Nissan Sentra’s new hands-free text message assist feature.

With mainstream television opportunities still a challenge to secure for most R&B/hip-hop artists, the exposure afforded by a national commercial spot is a valuable commodity. It also makes practical business sense in terms of reaching a powerful and influential consumer base. According to The African-American Consumer 2014 Report compiled by Nielsen and Essence Communications, 44% of African-American households earn $50,000 or more. Also of note in the study: 38% African-Americans are more likely to make a purchase when the advertisements include African-Americans and 20% are more likely to purchase a product supported or endorsed by an African-American celebrity or musician.

In the case of Ross, the Glade commercial offers the chance to further boost the growing buzz surrounding his debut EP Dialogue in the Grey and build awareness for his spring-slated 2015 Motown/Verve debut album. The singer/songwriter reinterpreted “This Is My Wish” -- performed by Jordin Sparks for Glade’s 2013 holiday campaign -- for his own 30-second Glade spot that launched nationwide on Nov. 15. Owing to company policy, Glade parent company S.C. Johnson declined to reveal any details concerning its media spend for this year’s campaign.

As part of the campaign, however, Ross’ “This Is My Wish” was made available for free download via glade.com. The song has since generated more than 180,000 downloads/streams on the site, according to S.C. Johnson. “Wish” has also peaked at No. 17 on Billboard’s Hot R&B Songs chart dated Dec. 27, and sold 55,000 downloads through Dec. 14, according to Nielsen Music. The Glade/Ross media partnership will end at Christmas. While the song will come down off glade.com on Dec. 31, it will remain available on iTunes.

Describing “Wish” as “relatable” to his upcoming single “Dream" from the Grey EP, Ross says that little by little people have begun to recognize him on the street. “There’s been an overwhelming amount of love from the commercial,” he adds. “It’s a good opportunity -- a great song and also a great platform.”

Ezekiel Lewis, Motown senior VP of A&R, concurs. “You can never predict this kind of reaction,” he says. “It’s rare to find this type of synergy between a brand and an artist.”

For other acts like Usher, Salt-N-Pepa, a national spot gives them a chance to reconnect with longtime fans as well as spark awareness among new ones. For example, Salt-N-Pepa with DJ Spinderella -- wearing back-in-the day colorful leather jackets and gold chains -- implore a Lamaze class, scrimmaging football players and others to “push it” in their Geico spot. The phrase is a nod to the group’s sexy 1988 top 20 Billboard Hot 100 single of the same name, being used to drive home Geico’s customer pledge: “save 15% or more on car insurance.” 

Since the Geico spot’s launch, “Push It" witnessed a 123 percent gain in download sales, according to Nielsen Music. The song sold 11,000 downloads in the three frames ending Dec. 7, versus 5,000 in the three previous weeks.

In addition to sharing dance moves with Honey Nut Cheerios mascot BuzzBee on his single “She Came to Give It to You,” Usher took the relationship to the next level in November. That’s when the singer/songwriter’s exclusive single “Clueless” was made available for download in specially marked packages of the cereal purchased at Walmart. BuzzBee first made the R&B/hip-hop scene in 2013 when rapper Nelly gave him a swag makeover. Now Hidden Beach group Naturally 7 -- coming with an album in 2015 -- is currently rhapsodizing about the “Honey of an O.”

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