``Big Shaq & the Dr. D-R-E; Who the hottest on the streets?; Dog we are; Hit the telly with 20-inch Pirellis; That's gangsta; And there ain't nothing you can tell me.''-``Dat's Me'' by Shaquille O'Neal.
``Daddy needs new shoes; Daddy needs Pirellis to look mean on 22s.''-``High All the Time'' by 50 Cent.
Yo, Blood...You want fresh? Be a playa-first of your posse in da hood to have your tricked out wearin' dubs? If you want da bling, ya gotta have da juice. Talkin' cheddar here, boo...crisp Benjamins. Lots of `em. Then your rims be kickin'.
Yeah, if you wanna be da bomb...that's jiggy to you neophytes...the tire of choice for the ride of choice has become the color of cool: a big, black Pirelli. Bigger the better.
At least, that's what Pirelli Tire North America Inc. execs are saying.
But don't take their word for it. Just ask some of today's most popular rappers-50 Cent, Shaq-what's jiggy (cool) on their whips (cars): 20s, dog-big, often ostentatious 20-inch rims or bigger.
When NBA basketball superstar Shaquille O'Neal, hertofore known only by his nom de plume ``Shaq,'' teamed up late this summer with veteran Hip Hop producer Dr Dre (aka Andre Young) to produce a hot new single ``Dat's Me'' on the DJDiesel Mix-tape, he wasn't just rappin' about how he and the good Dr are the hottest stars on the streets rolling on 20-inch Pirellis. The towering b-ball luminary was throwing wide open the door of what has become a major mainstream trend in the ride department: bling-bling-that's flashy ``jewelry,'' think shiny, glistening metal. And that's dubs (slang for 20-inch wheels...or larger).
Shaq's own stable of rides is probably as large as he's tall. And he likes to talk about his Rolls Royce Phantom, which he ``rides around in on 22-inch Pirellis.''
Hitchin' a ride on this growing trend was a no brainer for Pirelli. After all, ultra-high performance Pirellis are most often the tire of choice when Hip Hop celebrities have their cars customized and modified, the company says. So the Rome, Ga.-based tire maker hatched an edgy urban marketing initiative last spring, launching a partnership with ``Godfather of Rap'' Russell Simmons, former president of Def Jam Records, and his Hip Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN). That non-profit organization is led by Clevelander Dr. Benjamin Chavis, a civil rights worker under Dr. Martin Luther King and former national executive director/CEO of the NAACP.
Both Messrs. Simmons and Chavis had been preaching the gospel of ``power with control'' to legions of impressionable young rap aficionados while, unbeknown to them, Pirelli's marketing slogan of late has been ``Power Is Nothing Without Control.'' The duo, according to Pirelli, became particularly excited at the prospect of re-purposing the tire maker's catchphrase to not only promote social and economic responsibility in the urban arena but, as Mr. Chavis put it, to interpret the motto as ``a clear call for safe driving and safe living.''
A tire/rap lexicon of what is hip was born.
Then earlier this year Guy Mannino, Pirelli's president and CEO, launched the company's ``Controlled Driving Campaign'' at a Detroit HSAN get-out-the-vote summit chaired by Mr. Simmons and hosted by rap personalities Eminem, 50 Cent, D12 as well as Dr. Chavis and others. The Pirelli chief got his impromptu intro to rap through his 14-year-old son, who brought to his dad's attention Shaq's rap spiel about his Pirellis.
In a recent interview with Tire Business, Peter Tyson, Pirelli's vice president of advertising, public relations and motorsports, and company spokesman Jack Gerken talked about the tire maker's ``urban marketing'' campaign and tie-in to the world of Hip Hop.
Why take that approach?
``Everyone thinks urban marketing, Hip Hop, is a niche activity, but what took us in that direction is, simply, we need to market our brand to young people,'' Mr. Tyson explained. ``So it's a much wider concept than just a little niche activity.
``You can get to young people through lots of different ways, including motorsports, drifting. But not all have an interest in motorsports. We discovered that for every one person with an interest in that, I'd guess there are eight or nine interested in music. So you can't ignore the channel of music if you're marketing to young people because their lives revolve around, say, rap music.''
The company delved into urban marketing with the intent to expand its activities into the 19-25 age group of males and females. ``Once we decided on that, we concentrated on Hip Hop,'' Mr. Tyson continued, discovering that it's become mainstream music. He cited a recent USA Today graphic on trends in music, which noted that 80 percent of radio stations play Hip Hop.
Sorry, but Sinatra is no longer in the Top 10 in most major markets.
Why choose a link to music? And Hip Hop at that?
``Apart from the obvious fact that most young people are interested in music, we chose the type that's universally popular,'' Mr. Tyson said. ``There seems to be an empathy between the Pirelli brand and modern music.''
The company began looking at that trend a couple years ago, he said, and found several references in rappers' lyrics to Pirelli tires. ``I'm a great believer in playing to strengths and not re-inventing your brand.''
Mr. Gerken said most noticeable at the 2003 Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) trade show in Las Vegas was the ``Dub'' influence, which he called ``dramatic. The demographic at (Pirelli's) booth was many more blacks, young people, Hip Hoppers, because the vehicles they've chosen...are the Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Bentleys, Rolls.''
The role models of the Hip Hop music scene, like basketball and football stars, all seem to be into cars, ``so there's reason to market ourselves alongside these guys,'' Mr. Tyson added.
``We're fortunate because we have a dominating original equipment presence on these high-end, ultra-high performance segment vehicles. Pirelli is the brand these guys want on their cars. What more could a marketing director want?''
With that OE advantage of being the ``desirable brand,'' the message can be spread down from the top into the mainstream market.
The greatest risk to this type of marketing, he admitted, could be the perception that a brand ``is too expensive, not for me. You have to work hard to avoid that too-exclusive positioning.
``We do most of that re-balancing activity through our dealers.
``If you've got this aura about your brand vs. other comparable brands, you have a fighting chance of selling a Pirelli rather than some other big brand.''
And at the end of the day, Pirelli's advertising is ``all about making sure we have the right brand image-desirable-at a price they can afford-not at Lamborghini, but at BMW prices,'' Mr. Tyson said. ``Then you've got yourself a business.''
Pirelli's Hip Hop project has arrived on the scene in a number of formats. Mr. Simmons' HSAN, for instance, has sponsored several get-out-the-vote ``summits'' with the objective of signing up about a half-million new youth voters this year in time for the U.S. presidential election. The numbers tell a tale of social responsibility: The Detroit summit headed by Messrs. Chavis and Simmons signed up 75,000 youth; in Houston they got 65,000; and in Los Angeles, in conjunction with the NBA All Star game, 40,000 young people registered to vote.
Mr. Simmons, who fronts Rush Communications, a focal point of Hip Hop activities, also has enlisted in HSAN endeavors the help of his brother, Joseph ``Rev. Run'' Simmons, former member of trendsetting rap group innovators Run/DMC.