Is "Clout Chasing" Marketing?

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By Jaylin Paschal

While reading up on rap phenomenon 6ix9ine’s case, something I admittedly knew little about, I noticed a lot of people referring to his antics as “marketing.” As someone studying strategic communications and working in integrated marketing, this took me by surprise.

Rappers, as all other celebrities, have long participated in certain gimmicks to keep their names in headlines. But Tekashi 6ix9ine’s case is the first in which I noticed music journalists specifically and intentionally referring to his ploys as “marketing tactics.” I was more surprised by the fact that 6ix9ine’s “marketing” was being praised as brilliant by the likes of Chuck D.

Perhaps this has something to do with the Instagram age in which everyone is a “brand,” and no post is considered to be a true reflection of self but rather an influencer’s mark. Everything and anything can be marketing these days - so why not the seemingly professional trolling of a rainbow-haired newcomer?

From the lens of a marketer, the only way 6ix9ine’s marketing was “brilliant” is if you believe the adage that “all press is good press.” With recent headlines suggesting that the 22-year-old could be spending the rest of his life in prison, I’d assume that even he would disagree with you.

Has he climbed charts, made news and branded himself? Yes. But marketing is about the end game. And 6ix9ine didn’t seem to have one.

There have been rappers who have flirted with beefs, crime, etc. for the sake of “clout” without slipping into the traps and trials that lifestyle cultivates. If 6ix9ine couldn’t tow the line successfully, why is his strategy discussed as an effective one? Why is his behavior discussed in terms of marketing when it has translated into real violence and racketeering? When does this form of “marketing” become something more sinister with worse consequences?

In one article in particular, Okayplayer’s “The Rise and Fall of 6ix9ine: The Boy Who Cried Clout,” the Brooklyn rapper’s rise to fame was described as an epic clout chase that ultimately lead to his own demise. In this piece, writer Andre Gee concludes:

[Judge Felicia] Mennin contended in her probation sentencing [of 6ix9ine after his child sex case] that, “you can’t punish people for the way they choose to market themselves.” Now, he and his legal team are facing the tall task of convincing a Federal Judge and jury of the same thing.

But can’t you punish people for how they decide to market themselves? Especially if these conscious decisions are against the law? If I spray paint my logo on the side of a building, will I be fined? Don’t well-branded dealers get caught up in their shameless or boastful promotion? Haven’t people always been punished for marketing schemes? Why or how does the digital quest for clout change the dynamics of what is and isn’t illegal? As Gee tweeted, “the justice system doesn’t do ‘trolling.’”

If clout chasing is marketing, and marketing has been held to the court of law’s standards since its existence, then why shouldn’t clout chasing result in the typical punishment? The argument is fundamentally flawed.

If Daniel Hernandez goes to jail, it’s not because of the way he “marketed” Tekashi 6ix9ine. It’s because of the decisions he made in that marketing. Decisions that let me know that he had no real team looking out for him, no clear strategy to earn and maintain fame and no true understanding for what counts as “clout.”

The “clout chase” of digitally-influenced Hip Hop is a dangerous path. Especially when the lines of real and curated is blurred on our timelines. We see a young entertainer “not giving a fuck” on our cell phone screens. Law enforcement, who keeps a watchful eye on Hip Hop, sees something much different. The likes, retweets, clickbait and bubblegum tracks that characterized 6ix9ine outlined something that was less like a marketer’s deck, and more like a prosecutor’s bulletin.

Jaylin PaschalComment