Music vs. Brands

It is no great secret that brands have established themselves as part of modern music, especially in Hip Hop, Rap and Club music.  However, branding via product placement is a sort of taboo subject that artists have no interest in discussing the details behind. Similarly, the brands themselves dodge the topic as they do not want to be seen as paying people to like them.

What most people do not realize is that very often product placement in music is completely voluntary and that there is no formal agreement between the artist and the company.  This article will firstly discuss why artists use brands in their music without any monetary incentive, followed by  the specific example of electronic music-duo LMFAO. We will look at how their relationship with brands and their product placement practices evolved between their first single in 2009 and their last one in 2012.


Pass the Courvoisier, Part II“, the 2002 hit by Busta Rhymes seems like one long commercial for the cognac brand, with numerous reference to the brand in the lyrics and a quasi permanent presence of the recognizable Courvoisier bottle in the video clip.  Another example of brand promotion in music is the 2009 song “Patrón Tequila” by the Paradiso Girls and Lil John. As the song’s name indicates it is seemingly an extended commercial for the Mexican tequila brand Patrón.  One could assume these are over the top product placements by the respective brands, but upon looking for any details of such agreements it becomes apparent that they do not exist. These artists chose to dedicate their songs to brands without any monetary incentive.  In fact, Lil John used to be seen showing his love for Patrón Tequila at events and in other songs. However, he has never had an endorsement deal with Patrón, and is now actually a brand ambassador for a different type of tequila, Don Julio.
don julio

Before we move on, we must look at two things: why do artists endorse these products in their music for free, and why don’t companies attempt to link themselves with artists who are devoted to their brands?

In regards to the artists, there are two possible answers, one cynical and one optimistic. The truth probably lies somewhere in between.  The optimistic answer is that the artists are so genuinely fond of these brands that they feel the desire to show this love to the world, much as one recommends a brand to a friend.  After all, music reflects the world we live in, some artists use it as a medium to address social and political issues, love problems, personal experiences, so in a world that is becoming ruled by brand names it is not completely crazy to think that artists would want to talk about their favorite brands.Screen Shot 2012-12-22 at 17.48.02 The less charitable answer is that artists show their love for a brand in the hope that it will lead to a real endorsement deal and the monetary rewards that ensue.  An example I came across recently was, the once “Lil”, Bow Wow preaching his love for Levi’s and how much he loves wearing “White Tee, Levi’s and a snapback”and then saying this should merit an endorsement deal.  The idea of an endorsement is to get someone to endorse the product, hence if said person has already proclaimed their love for a brand they usually have little more to offer.

These deals between artists and their favorite brands rarely end up happening, but what does happen is that when artists reach a certain level of fame, they are approached by smaller brands or even, begin their own brand.

The reasons why the big brands do not offer the desired deals is simply because they do not need to. If they were big enough to be endorsed by the artist for free there is no reason to pay for it in the future. In the example of Bow Wow, Levi’s has no need to pay him anything as he is endorsing them for free.  Also, from a brands point of view, though the publicity may be good for brand awareness, they often make a point of not associating themselves with an artist, as he will rarely represent the brand’s values.  While Bow Wow may convince his fans to wear Levi’s, were he to become a brand ambassador many people would be turned away from the brand due to his association to rap and his cursing.  Generally speaking, artists tend to have too narrow a fan base for international brands to want to be directlty associated with them. Coming back to the example of Lil John and Partón, an endorsement deal would be a statement on Patrón’s part that Lil John represents Patrón’s values.  But as an elegant luxury brand from Mexico, the tequila brand has no interest in directly associating itself with a rapper.  However, Lil John did eventually get an endorsement deal but with a different Tequila company, Don Julio. They would have seen the effect his voluntary promotion of Patrón was having and felt Lil John could help their lesser known brand gain more visibility.

In some cases, if the artist is big enough and is suitable for the brand, it can be worthwhile for the companies.  Whilst the aforementioned song “Pass the Courvoisier, Part II” was not paid for by Courvoisier, Busta Rhymes did eventually get an endorsement deal with the company as it turned out they were desperately trying to appeal to his fan base demographic.  A similar effect occurred when rapper Nelly released his ode to the Nike Jordan brand, “Air Force One” which was a voluntary endorsement but eventually resulted in Nelly getting his own shoe line.  In both these cases the artist was an appropriate brand ambassador for the products in question, but keep in mind this is rarely the case.

This last point, Nelly getting his own shoe line, was precursor to another trend: artists actually creating and then endorsing their own products, as we will see in the case study.


Case Study

This article’s main case study does not concern Lil John, Busta Rhymes or Bow Wow, it concerns LMFAO and their relationship with brands.table1

LMFAO is an american eletronic duo consisting of two DJs, Redfoo and Skyblu.  They came to worldwide attention with such hits as “I’m in Miami Trick” and “Shots” in 2009 but became true worldwide superstars with the first single from their second album “Party Rock Anthem” in 2011. It has over 500 million views on Youtube and was at the top of the charts in over 10 countries.

I discovered LMFAO when I heard the song “Shots” and have tracked their rise to stardom ever since.  A very interesting piece of media I found regarding LMFAO back during the run of their first album, was this interview with BVTV during the Black Eyed Peas world tour. Though 26 minutes long, it shows the duo’s human side, their silliness, the artistic side and their general state of mind regarding their music and the industry.  Most interestingly, around the 20th minute of the interview, Redfoo addresses the various brands that are in their videos and lyrics:

“In the first album we talked about a lot of things in life, you know, Red Bull, Patrón, Cîroc, [Grey] Goose… we talked about Vans , we talked about a lot of stuff, we made a lot of people rich, more people drink Red Bull now, more people drink Grey Goose now , more people drink Patrón and Cîroc , that we put in these songs , this album [their next one] , it’s not gonna be for free”
-Redfoo of LMFAO, 2009

This statement illustrates what we already discussed, that in their first album brands were mentioned without any monetary incentive but that the artists would like a deal in the future. I am not calling LMFAO sell outs, their songs are about partying and drinking and they obviously do drink and enjoy the various brands they mention, as well as wear brands like Vans.  However, they were well-aware of how much money this made for the brands in question and simply wanted their piece of the action.  In their video clips many of the brands mentioned in Redfoo’s quote are shown, but in the interview he goes on to say that as they became more successful they contacted the various brands to discuss possible endorsements deals and they were ignored.  Hence, as the quote above shows, they vowed to make brands pay in their next album.

So, the question we are now looking at is, did they stick to their word of not giving away free brand promotion in their second album?

Lyrical Mentions

This first table shows the brands cited throughout the first and second album, we’ll consider the brands in Grey irrelevant and not included them in any counts, as their being mentioned can be consider circumstantial (for example, their name fitted in the song lyrically).lyrics table

From a total of 13 mentions for 6 different brands in their first album LMFAO reduced this to 5 mentions for 5 brands in their second.  It must be taken into account that most of their songs are about partying and drinking, hence it can be expected that certain names will still be thrown around without any ulterior motive. However, the noticeable reduction in number of brands and especially number of actual mentions clearly shows a deliberate effort by LMFAO to minimize their endorsements of brands with their lyrics.

Music Video Product Placementvideo table

Now let’s look at the brand appearances in the videos:  (certain appearances such as car brands in the background were omitted).

In terms of brand appearances in the videos we go from 18 appearances of 10 brands across 4 videos in the first album to 29 appearances of 17 brands across 4 videos.

Here there is no drop in brands’ presence, in fact there is a significant increase. Lets look closely at the main brands in question:

LA Tech & La Freak

fake brands

The two brands in yellow, La Freak, the champagne brand in “Champagne showers”, and LA Tech the sports brand in “Yes” are made up for the purpose of the music videos.  This concept of actually using fake brands is very interesting as LMFAO are showing the possibility for a brand to be plugged here but by not using a real brand are also saying they will not do it for free

la tech shoe

The snapshots below are quite distinct, not just hard to distinguish background products, they received plenty of screen time and even some close ups.  LA Tech, the fake sportswear brand was featured in the last clip of the first album, after the interview in which LMFAO said they would no longer endorse brands for free.  This clearly marked a shift in their product placement activities and mind frame.

Beats by Dre


Beats by Dre is by far the most visible brand in LMFAO videos if not generally in all music videos.  This is because Jimmy Iovine, the co-founder of Beats by Dre is also the chairman of IGA, one of the biggest umbrella labels in the world and behind many artists such as Lady Gaga, Justin Bieber and of course LMFAO.  With this dual position, Jimmy Iovine places Beats by Dre headphones in most music videos that are produced by IGA.  Hence this is unpaid product placement that is linked to LMFAO’s corporate record company.




Beats by Dre works closely with Apple who sell their product and often associate their products. The placement of Apple product can be linked again to the record company.  However it is worth mentioning that the Apple brand is never shown, just the products (IPods and IPads), possibly because they are trying to associate Beats by Dre headphones to Apple products rather than actually promote the Apple products. In the picture to the right we see that they actually put a piece of tape over the back of the ipad as to not show the Apple logo.

CherryTree Records


CherryTree is LMFAO’s label (a sub label of IGA) hence the presence of this brand and its subsequent products (CherryTree Cola) is again self-promotion and can be found in every video of the second album.


Big Bad U

BBUSelf promotion is seen with “Big Bad U”, a collective of artists founded by Skyblu of LMFAO who wears the logo on his t-shirt in “Sorry for Party Rocking” and “Champagne Showers” from the second album.


Beat Rock

beat rock

Beat Rock, the app shown in “Sorry for Party Rocking” and in “Party Rock Anthem” was created by Redfoo of LMFAO and hence this is promotion of their own product and brand.  This also further justifies the position that Apple did not incentivize product placement in LMFAO videos as here the Apple product is being shown merely as a platform for LMFAO’s own product.


Party Rock

party rock clothing

If we look a LMFAO’s use of their videos for self-promotion we see a big increase.  In the first album the only brands linked to LMFAO were Apple and Beats by Dre, and while we’ve explained why these brands were shown for free they are not brands related personally to LMFAO but rather to their umbrella record company.  In the second album’s videos, as well as Apple and Beats by Dre we see the plugging of their record label CherryTree Records, product placement of Beat Rock, Redfoo’s personal product and Big Bad University, Skyblu’s personal project.

Finally, something we haven’t yet mentioned is that from their first single “I’m in Miami Trick” LMFAO show heavily customized jewelry and clothes throughout their video clips all falling under the “Party Rock” brand.  This practice became more and more pronounced as time went on and they replaced brands such as Vans with Party Rock clothes, shoes and accessories.

External vs. Linked Brands

All the brands we have seen so far are considered linked to LMFAO. In the first album there were 10 appearances of 3 brands linked to LMFAO vs. 17 appearances of 6 brands in the second album.  This shows an increase in self-promotion both in terms of quantity and breadth.type of brand

Once all brands that are directly linked to LMFAO are taken out of the equation we are left with 7 brands making a total of 8 appearances in the videos from the first album and 11 brands making 12 appearance in videos from the second.

Other brands in the first album

In the first albums these 7 external brands are shown either in the background, or in the corner of a shot, they are never shown in obvious close-ups and actual brand labels are never shown.  This further supports that these brands were just being used to either convey reality, because LMFAO liked them or possibly because the companies supplied free samples for the shooting of the videos.

inv brands

However out of 11 appearances in the second album’s videos 5 brands are prominently shown with close ups or by centering shots on them.  These brands are Cîroc, Red Elixir, Foam Fighters, G Shock and Kia.  We will also look at the product placement of Ray Ban sunglasses and whether or not it was paid for.  The other 5 brands appeared much like in the first album’s video: in the background and never shown clearly.  Hence, we leave them aside as they were not placed in LMFAO’s videos due to any agreements.  This is particular apparent when their vague presence is compared to the in-your-face featuring of the following brands:


Cîroc Vodka has been mentioned in both albums and shown in videos from both albums.  However in the first albums LMFAO are seen merely holding the bottles and drinking out of them.  Someone who does not know what a Cîroc bottle looks like would not know what brand it is.  In “Sorry for Party Rocking” Cîroc has clearly paid for very high visibility and specifically close up shots of the brands’ labels.


Cîroc has long been involved in the music world with brand ambassadors such as P Diddy and Rick Ross, so incentivized product placement in an LMFAO video seems in line with their overall branding strategy.


To further illustrate the point that brands went from being featured for free vs. being paid product placements let us compare the placement of Cîroc in “Shots” (1st Album) vs. “Sorry for Party Rocking” (2nd Album):


Red Elixir

red elixir

The placement of Red Elixir, an energy drink/mixer, in the video for “Sorry for party Rocking” is interesting. As we can see (below to the right) it is presented on a tray along with Monster and Red Bull, though much more obviously than these two.  The message is that Red Elixir should be considered on the same level as these big energy drink brands, however Red Foo uses Red Elixir as his mixer, and not Red Bull or Monster hence implying it is his preferred choice.  The drink is shown again in people’s hands later on in the video.

red elixir site

With the close-ups and the clear showing of the brand labels there is no doubt Red Elixir is paying for such exposure.  It even shows off its connection to LMFAO on its website.

Now while Cîroc is a known brand of Vodka, Red Elixir is quite a small and little known brand of energy drink.  It is a clear example of what was mentioned earlier, that paid endorsements such as these are perfect for up and coming brands that need brand ambassadors and exposure

Foam Fighters

The Ipad in “Sorry for Party Rocking” was not meant to promote the Apple product but rather the game on which it is shown being played on it: Foam Fighters.  This was a indisptubale product placement of the succesful flying simulation app.

G Shock

watch2We also see the product placement of G Shock watches which are shown of Redfoo’s wrist with two separate close ups in “Sexy and I know it”.  This is clear paid-for product placement by Casio (G Shock manufacturer’s) who already have pop singer Ke$ha as their brand ambassador and thus are familiar with productplacement in music.


Ray Ban

ray bans

In “Champagne Showers” Skyblu is clearly seen wearing Ray Ban Wayfarers and a dancer in “Sexy and I know it” is seen showing off a pair of Aviators.  Given that Skyblu wore a similar pair of brand free black shades in most other clips but specifically Ray Bans in “Champagne Showers” is seems likely this product placement was incentivized, though not necessarily monetarily.  While the shades are recognizable they do not receive the close ups that Cîroc and Red Elixir do, hence it seems more likely that Ray Ban sent LMFAO free products to encourage them to wear them.



Once Party Rock Anthem was on track to be a hit KIA forged a partnership with LMFAO.  Firstly the KIA Soul was featured very visibly in the next music video, “Champagne showers”, then the KIA Soul Hamster advert came out with as its sound track, Party Rock Anthem.

Upon researching it, one quickly finds press releases regarding LMFAO and Kia having a commercial agreement, as is apparent by the commercial use of the song in the hamster campaign.

“LMFAO is striking both visually and sonically.  The same can be said about Kia and their Soul hamster campaigns. Together with the entire Kia Motors team we devised an integrated program tapping into the band’s cultural phenomenon with their song of the summer “Party Rock Anthem.”
-Jennifer Frommer, Senior Vice president of KIA

This quote shows what was discussed earlier with Lil Jon and tequila, that a company will only engage in a full endorsement deal if it feels the endorsee represents its value. In the case of the Kia Soul, LMFAO was considered a good match, and a deal was made.  It is worth noting that while this deal seems like a reasonable match there was still a risk for KIA.

The main reasons given as to why companies do not necessarily want to be associated with artists is that their fan bases are quite narrow and that they can be somewhat controversial.  The KIA Soul is a specific car model targeted at young people, so using LMFAO seems like a good move to target that particular demographic.  In regards to controversy, LMFAO, whilst being famous for their music and partying, have been quite good at staying out of trouble (other than Skyblu getting into scuffle with Mitt Romney on a plane back in 2010, which frankly just makes me like him more) hence the risk may have been minimal.  But imagine that after the KIA product placement and the hamster commercial that either member of LMFAO got into some sort of drunken car accident it could have been disastrous for KIA’s image.


Another interesting fact, which goes along with the KIA hamster commercial, is that in light of the success off their second album LMFAO also developed a presence in national commercials.  These include the NBA Budweiser commercial, Pepsi commercials and the wide use of their music such as in the Superbowl M&Ms commercial.

Chronological Overview

Before we conclude let us quickly look at LMFAO’s timeline along with their various video product placements.  The table below omits external brands that have been determined as not having been placed in the videos due to monetary incentives.



The two clear trends that emerge are the appearance of paid product placement in the second album and the increase in self-promotion.  Furthermore the two fake brands appear in the last video of the first album and the first video of the second album.  It clearly indicated at the end of the first album that product placement would not be free in the next album (as was said almost word for word in the quote that opened this case study).  Lo and behold, the three videos in the second album featured paid product placement with the final one featuring three distinct brands being visually showcased.


We can say that there are three types of product placement in music: those that are done without any monetary incentives, those that are done because of an endorsement agreement and those are done because the brand is somehow linked to the artist.  This last type of placements can refer to own brands such as Party Rock Clothing or those linked to an artist’s studio, as is the case with Beats by Dre.

LMFAO illustrates the journey most artists go through. They initially had a lot brands present in both their lyrics and videos with no one paying them for it.  As they got more successful they cut back on brand mentioning in their lyrics whilst increasing incentivized video product placement.   Brands such as Beats by Dre were always present, but other brands such a KIA or Red Elixir appeared as paid product placement. Simultaneously they pushed their own brands and products more and more.

LMFAO recently announced they were going on indefinite hiatus, which provides a distinct end to LMFAO’s relationships with brands. They succeeded in cashing in on brand product placement as they said they wanted to back in 2009 whilst also promoting their own products.  This last point is important because though endorsements may be lucrative in the short term, it is by launching ones own products or gaining actual stakes in the product one endorses that the big bucks are made.

Sean Combs (aka Diddy or P Diddy) is widely known as one the most successful and entrepreneurial artists of all time, and remains amidst the top earners today in music, despite not having had a platinum album since 2002.  This is because Diddy used his music fame to create his own ventures such as Sean Combs Jeans and gain a 50% stake in the profits of the aforementioned Cîroc Vodka.  His numerous ventures earned Mr. Combs 45 million dollars in 2012.

So as Redfoo and Skyblu part ways and their LMFAO-related endorsement income come to an end they do still walk away with the Big Bad U venture, the Beat Rock app and the Party Rock Clothing brand all of which have gained much exposure due to their music videos.



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