Steve Stoute Explains the ‘Tanning of America’

The advertising guru shares strategies from his new book and how brands can tap into the youth market

Advertising guru Steve Stoute imagines a world where all global corporate juggernauts—if they haven’t already—come to kneel at the feet of hip-hop. It’s the reason he spent three years crafting his recently released how-to guide, The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created A Culture That Rewrote The Rules of The New Economy (Gotham).

The branding genius—famous for padding the bank accounts of megastars like business partner Jay-Z, Mary J. Blige, Lady Gaga, LeBron James and pretty much the rest of the entertainment world—says it’s high time advertisers peeped the tremendous buying power of the millions of people who consume the culture worldwide, and catered to them, accordingly.

“My ‘aha’ moment came a few years ago when I was traveling with Samsung [for Valentino],” says the former music industry executive, responsible for marrying Beyoncé and Tommy Hilfiger for her True Star fragrance; Justin Timberlake and McDonald’s as part of their ‘I’m Loving It’ campaign; and Chris Brown with Wrigley’s gum, among other supremely lucrative deals. “It didn’t matter where I was… Berlin, Seoul, Korea, Tokyo, wherever… hip-hop dominated the landscape. I was even in one of the oldest towns in France, known for its art galleries, artifacts and such; and what did I see in the middle of it? A jewelry store called ‘Bling.’ If that’s not telling I don’t know what is.”

Now, Stoute wants advertisers on the come-up (and those looking to reinvent their brand) to follow his blueprint for reaching this generation of Black, Hispanic, Asian and White consumers, many of whom, he argues, share the same “mental complexion” based on mutual experiences and values. He points to the collective bargaining power and subsequent election of President Barack Obama as proof.

“A lot of my clients and friends contribute stories about their business successes in this book, including [Interscope/Geffen Records CEO] Jimmy Iovine, Russell Simmons and Jay-Z,” says Stoute of the hundreds of pages of interviews and case studies he compiled. “Who better to listen to than the folks who have done it?”

The marketing director and CEO of Carol’s Daughter—a hair and body care line that boasts a board of investors that include Hollywood heavyweights Will and Jada Pinkett Smith—is also taking his message on the road: this month Stoute will teach a course on his book at NYU. He says college kids are his target audience. “This book is a reference guide for any young person in the fields of advertising, marketing and communication,” Stoute explains. “It tells them not only how to speak to the next generation of consumers but how to move the [hip-hop] agenda forward.”

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