TONY COX, host:
I'm Tony Cox, and this is NEWS & NOTES.
Today on a special Roundtable, in the world of marketing, making it in 2006 means going global. And it seems the more world shrinks, the bigger the fan base of athletes and celebrities grows. In the last few years some new faces have sparked interest abroad and investors are taking notice.
In Asia, NBA All-Star LeBron James received a king's welcome during the World Games this past summer. Also, hip-hop mogul and newly un-retired rap star Jay-Z recently toured Africa, Asia and Europe with the partial support of the United Nations. African-Americans seemed to have found a niche in the global market, but is conquering that market as easy as the ads seem to make it look?
Joining me now are three intimately involved experts in the changing global landscape. Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR Marketing. Steve Stoute, founder and chief creative officer, Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging. And Lynn Merritt, Nike senior director of basketball development, who, by the way, is joining us from Barcelona, Spain.
Gentleman, nice to have all three of you on with us today.
Mr. MAVERICK CARTER (CEO, LRMR Marketing): Thank you.
COX: Before we start talking about successful global marketing, let me ask the three of you, starting with you, Maverick, how much of America has been conquered when it comes to African-Americans as commercial brands and icons?
Mr. CARTER: I want to say it's totally conquered. But most of America, mainstream America, when it comes to African-American athletes and entertainers, has been conquered because, as you can see, everyone from the kids, whom the African-American athletes and entertainers have always had, all the way up until, you know, the 50-year-old suburban mother have been conquered because they have kids, and the kids are so into LeBron, Jay-Z, Terrell Williams that they have to go out and buy these guys' products and music, and tune in to everything that they do on TV. So pretty much most of America has been conquered.
COX: Really, Steve, do you see it that way at all? Or are we just talking about the urban areas where the phenomenon can be seen, or is it just everywhere, even in the small farming towns?
Mr. STEVE STOUTE (Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Translation Consultation & Brand Imaging): Well, I believe that African-Americans have made the impact culturally. However, it's taking a little longer. I think we have it conquered in the smile states. If you go down the West Coast and down the south and up the eastern border, that seems to be covered, the cosmopolitan cities.
We still have a lot to do in the red states, so to speak. And I believe that comes as marketers and the big marketing companies seem to embrace the culture more and realize that it's not African-American culture but it's more urban culture. And urban is the mindset, not skin color. And as long as they embrace that mindset, I believe that we can go a lot further in getting the red states to align to this.
COX: So, Lynn, does that mean that it's getting easier to market African-Americans in America?
Mr. LYNN MERRITT (Senior Director of Basketball Development, Nike): I believe that what you are seeing - the acceptance is in sports and entertainment, which then will allow mainstream America to have an easier acceptance of it. But I think in sports like, you know, basketball where Michael Jordan has paved the way for a LeBron James and Dwyane Wade I think there is a tremendous amount of acceptance.
COX: So, Maverick, when you are targeting a black image to a crossover market, OK, what do you look to play up and what do you look to play down?
Mr. CARTER: You don't necessarily have to play up anything except for - in LeBron instance, what we do in LeBron is just who he is. Everything that's about him, where he lives, how he lives, his struggle to his achievement…
Mr. MERRITT: …of authenticity.
Mr. CARTER: …everything that's authentic about him - how he lives, where he lives, everything that he went through as a child. And that's what everyone can relate to. No matter what your skin color is, everyone has struggles they go through to achieve whatever they need to.
So in the case of LeBron - and Jay-Z is a great example is - is this authenticity. So it's just what they are and who they are. The things that they went through that were bad in their life, the struggles that some people will call bad, people relate to those, too.
COX: Even with guys like LeBron and like Jay-Z, aren't there areas of their lives that you have to try to - and I'm not talking about, you know, criminal things or things of that sort; I'm not even suggesting that at all - but still, are there areas of their lives that you would try not to have represented with regard to helping them to push your product?
Mr. CARTER: Well, there's areas that - of their lives that they personally want to keep private because it's their private lives even though they're huge global icons and stars. There's obviously parts of their lives and things that they do that everyone doesn't need to know about.
So, as you are putting them out there and their personality and people getting to know them, for instance, Jay-Z does it through rap. LeBron does it to his new commercials. As you see, the LeBrons were - you see all these four sides of his personality and who he is.
But there are parts of his life that he wants to keep private that he doesn't want anyone to know about. And just for personal reasons, not because they're bad or people shouldn't be doing these things. It's just things that he wants to keep private that he may do in the privacy of his home or in the locker room with his teammates that people don't need to know about.
Mr. MERRITT: Tony, I think, you know, in piggy backing me off of what Mav said, I mean it's fairly simple in the way, you know, Nike has approached working with LeBron is - he is an NBA player, so we promoted him being a great, young NBA player with a personality. And so if you enjoy the game of basketball and you enjoy somebody with a sense of humor, you accept that image.
COX: Blacks have been told in the past by mainstream magazines that when we put you on the cover, we will sell less copies, and if your film has an all-black cast, people outside of black America are not going to be interested.
So how do you make believers out of a network of systematically conditioned business-world folks, where fragmentation is an accepted marketing phenomenon and African-Americans are not generally seen as the prime audience target?
Mr. MERRITT: I have seen a lot of African-Americans on the covers of magazines, and I'm not necessarily sure, especially when it comes to ESPN or Sports Illustrated, that, you know, sports issue, I think those magazines are probably helped by having African-American icons on it.
In the movie side, I think we're still a little ways away. But guys like Will Smith and Jamie Foxx have done a lot to break down those barriers. You know, I don't know the exact figures, maybe…
Mr. STOUTE: Will Smith, just for the record, and I'm very intimately involved in what goes on with Will Smith. We're partners in an African-American product line called Carol's Daughter. Will transcends globally like - Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Tom Hanks, Will Smith is exactly the conversation you need to have.
When you talk about guys that you can put as a headline in a movie and say this is the movie and people can respond. It works all around the world, very ubiquitous. Will Smith did “Hitch.” It did $400 million around the world. The poster was the word, “Hitch,” with a picture of him and that was it. He can do that. There's not a lot of guys that can do that in general - white, black or indifferent.
Mr. CARTER: Right.
Mr. STOUTE: So I don't - when I speak about African-Americans that way, it's not niche. It's convenient to call it that. But in the areas of opening up films, in fashion - sports we understand - in fashion? Well, Beyonce on the cover of a magazine, that's all they want on the cover of a magazine is a Beyonce.
COX: I see the point that you are making.
Mr. STOUTE: I make…
COX: Although, people like Beyonce and Will Smith, they are in a different class. Halle Berry. Would you not agree with that, that they are in a different class?
Mr. STOUTE: They are in a different class but I could also tell you a lot of non-African-Americans that get on covers that don't sell either. As Maverick had said earlier, there is way too many consumer options right now. You don't have to buy that magazine. You can read it online and avoid the cover.
COX: I see your point. I see your point.
Mr. STOUTE: You don't need the cover of that magazine. So it's not a marketing world that exist right now where it's a push on the consumer. The consumer picks us. We're always in the business of trying to reinvent ourselves to make sure that we stay top of mind. And the brands that understand that they're not pushing on the consumer but they're being picked by the consumer are the brands that's going to win in the long run.
COX: Well, let me ask you, Maverick. In a global age where branding transcends borders - all of you know that, you're intimately involved in it - where in the world is the image of African-Americans most marketable, and why?
Mr. CARTER: I can speak directly to LeBron. LeBron is - in China, it's huge because basketball in China is huge. So in China, when LeBron goes there - just to give you an idea - we did an online chat in Beijing where he got online - was online for 20 minutes, and in 20 minutes throughout China we had three and a half million kids sign on to speak to LeBron.
Mr. CARTER: So in China the numbers are ridiculous because of the amount of people in China, because of the popularity of his sport, and because of the popularity of him within his sport. In China, he's huge now.
If he went to Europe, the numbers would not be the same. So I can speak to LeBron and basketball whether it is China and South America. Because for instance in South America, you have a team, Argentina, who was the gold-medal winner in Athens, Greece; and they have a player by the name of Manu Ginobili, who plays for the Spurs which is a championship team every year throughout the NBA. So in those areas where you have players that come from these different countries, those areas, basketball is obviously bigger than others.
COX: Well, you know - I'm glad - let me just follow this because that's a really good point that you are making because basketball is big in Europe also, so why isn't LeBron big there also?
Mr. MERRITT: Well, I can help you. I'm right here and I just had a meeting with the Nike country folks in Spain. And in China, basketball is the number one sport. In Europe, the number one sport is soccer or what they call football. And most of the Europeans that are really good end up in the NBA.
And so where Europe probably was a very strong basketball market five, seven years ago, it's probably waning a little bit because soccer has picked up so much momentum. They had the World Cup in Germany. And soccer's participation has grown in Europe where basketball has declined a little bit.
Mr. CARTER: And the marketing companies are focusing on those soccer athletes and turn them into…
Mr. MERRITT: Exactly.
Mr. CARTER: …athletes that transcend the sport. Ala David Beckham.
Mr. MERRITT: Right.
Mr. CARTER: They're finding the icons, and they're making them big in their bets on soccer. The market is bet on soccer.
Mr. STOUTE: In Europe.
Mr. CARTER: In Europe.
Mr. MERRITT: Right, yeah. And Ronaldinho…
Mr. STOUTE: And in China, the bets are on basketball players.
COX: I see.
Mr. MERRITT: Exactly.
COX: Let me put this question to the three of you as experts in the area of marketing, and it's something that I think a lot of folks, particularly black folks, wonder about, and it's simply this. Why is music, singing and dancing seemingly such a large part of the marketing when people of color are involved? What do you (Unintelligible)?
Mr. STOUTE: You only have 17 minutes?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. STOUTE: Tony, are you sure? You sure you want to ask that question with 17 minutes, man?
Mr. MERRITT: Oh, yeah.
Mr. STOUTE: I think…
COX: Give me the short answer.
Mr. CARTER: I think one of the reasons is because music is such a universal language. So for instance when Beyonce, or Jay-Z or Pharrell gets up and does a song, they're speaking about their life and the authenticity of their life. And that language is universal, anyone can listen to it and relate to it.
So music and singing and dancing is the only universal language. So everyone, everywhere can relate to when Jay-Z talks about the struggles he had growing up and the things that he goes through in his life.
Mr. STOUTE: Yeah, but that's part of it, Tony. I think the other part of it, a lot of it lies in opportunity as well. Maverick, Lynn and myself, we're sitting here, were speaking about marketing. Hopefully, this turns on another generation of young African-Americans that there's marketing opportunity. There's marketing jobs for them to show their talent outside of playing basketball, dancing or music.
That's just how it goes. It's getting where you fit in and where you believe you can get in and make a difference. And it's our job, it's all of our job to create more opportunities…
Mr. CARTER: Yup.
Mr. STOUTE: …so that these kids grow up knowing that that's a real lane that they could perform well in. We've done that well with basketball. We've done that well with dancing. And we've done that - and I think - as Steve, and Steve…
Mr. MERRITT: We're leaders in those industries. I mean clear…
Mr. CARTER: Exactly.
Mr. STOUTE: Everyone follows us.
COX: All right, one more thing before I let you guys go. What kind of “brand,” and that's in quotes, is someone like Oprah Winfrey?
Mr. CARTER: When you talk about someone who's an individual, a Michael Jordan, a Tiger Woods, an Oprah Winfrey or Jay-Z, they're an individual, a person, who is a global brand. People all over the world know who they are. They have products in the marketplace. The type of brand they are is simply the type of person they are.
COX: So they're not black, they're sort of black-plus, black…
Mr. MERRITT: I think Oprah's brand crosses all ethnic, and her brand stands for such high quality in all the stuff that she does. I think a lot of people relate to that.
Mr. STOUTE: The DNA of a lot of what we talked about when we name the people is - when Maverick spoke about the struggle, if you use that as a common ground to communicate with people, everyone has that either they personally went through it or they had family members that went through it. And that's always a great place to speak from, if people are honest about embracing that struggle.
The reason why Oprah Winfrey transcends black or Hispanic is because she has a global platform to speak about the struggle, there's - and the humanism in which she discusses is what people relate to. Jay-Z does that in basketball as a guy who comes from Marcy Projects. In music, a guy comes from Marcy Projects and becomes the owner of the Nets. Guy - LeBron goes from, you know, a guy in Akron and leaves high school and becomes a global basketball icon.
People look at that and say, you know what, I can relate to that. There's hope in that for me as well. And people respond really well to hope. And as long as they keep putting that hope out there and embracing the struggle, they'll keep building a fan base of people who aspire to follow in their paths.
COX: You mentioned hope and authenticity, and this really is my last question because I just thought of it in your previous answer. So does that explain why - and I'm talking, I'm going to ask you about Kobe Bryant, and whether or not his troubles in Colorado or the issues of authenticity, or hope, or charm, or the other intangibles that we have talked about, is that what has interrupted him from becoming like LeBron and like some of the others?
Mr. MERRITT: Kobe has the it factor on the court. He might be the best single individual player in the NBA. But having it, you also got to have a little bit of a personality, a little bit of, you know, humility. You got to have a little bit of more than just being a great basketball player. And I think for Kobe, even though he's extremely good basketball player, I think his personality doesn't necessarily allow him to be a global icon in the way that LeBron can.
LeBron is kind of a people's champion, kind of an Ali-type figure. And to really be a true global icon, you need that.
COX: That's a good place to bring the conversation to an end. Maverick Carter, CEO of LRMR Marketing; Steve Stoute, founder and chief creative officer at Translation Consultation and Brand Imaging; and Lynn Merritt, Nike senior director of basketball development. Guys, I've got to tell you, it was very informative and I appreciate your coming on.
Mr. MERRITT: Thank you.
Mr. CARTER: Tony, thank you.
(Soundbite of music)
COX: Next on NEWS & NOTES, comments from Africa come to Harlem to speak the truth. Plus, the Black Panthers reunite in Oakland to remember the party.
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