jamal and weezy[3]
Highlighting Key People in Hip-Hop

When it comes to branding, Jamal Henderson is in a league of his own. As the brains behind Mountain Dew’s “This Is How We Dew” campaign, alongside his team, he’s been able to integrate this beverage brand with some of hip-hop’s most notable artists; both new and seasoned. He’s found a way to perfectly tailor campaigns around Mac Miller, Lil Wayne, Tyler, the Creator and next up on his roster is Joey Bada$$. Henderson discovered this knack for branding while helping out a few friends who came close to record deals in the early 2000s. Once this Buffalo, New York native discovered that he could work with the things he loved, which is the culture and music, to affect sales, his eyes opened up to this career option. But before arriving at PepsiCo., Henderson was a business consultant. And before this, while in between his sophomore and junior year in college, he interned at Atlanta Records in A&R for Craig Kallman. Now, along with his branding position at PepsiCo., he runs Green Label Sound, a full service record label. Read on to get an insider’s look into Henderson’s mind and also get a better understanding of branding. Take notes.

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What’s a day in your life like?
Perfect, I can just describe today. We work in Westchester County. I started my morning off by going into the office for this big meeting with Walmart, which was very, very marketing driven. Then I had lunch here with Jonny Shipes who manages Joey Bada$$. We’re working with him right now. He’s on tour. Our Green Label Sound label is sponsoring that. At the meeting, we talked about what’s next with Joey and how Mountain Dew could get involved. Next, I’m heading into an advertising meeting in midtown at BBDO, which is our advertising agency and we’ll talk a little bit about our summer campaign, which starts in July. It’ll feature everyone from Paul Rodriguez to Lil Wayne and maybe even Joey. It’s exciting.

How do you spot these artists, especially those that are in hip-hop?
It’s not always about the demographic. We have an artist like Weezy but we also try to pick the ones that are on the come up. It’s what we did last year with Mac Miller. We try to get to these people before the industry really knows them. Joey Bada$$ is a hot ticket. Kids know this and now magazines and other outlets have identified him but still in a music industry kind of way, his results are still unproven since he’s a new commodity. For us to interact with him is really something you don’t see from a beverage brand so I think that’s how you build brands. We have this real inert type of energy, a real movement. With everything we do, we try to make sure it feels like something that’s really adding to the experience of the consumer. When it comes to these artists’ fans, if we can turn them into a Mountain Dew drinker, our business grows. Same with our demographic, if we can turn them into a fan of these artists, we all win.


How do you pitch these artists and ideas?
With Mountain Dew, it’s always been apart of the DNA. Since it mostly revolved around action sports, Wayne’s DeWeezy made since. I thought their action sports approached could be applied to any vehicle, whether it’s sports or music or art. We’d break the acts and kind of grow with them. When we got with Mac Miller, he was fresh. We knew his shows were crazy, we knew the kids were exited about his music and his whole movement. It wasn’t so much that I pitched it to the company but I highlighted the fact that this trend is happening and we’re already there when it comes to sports but tried to focus more so on how we could get there when it comes to music, fashion and art.

What was it like creating Lil Wayne’s Campaign?
With Lil Wayne, we worked closely with his team on a full campaign. We really wanted to do something different that had never been done before to fit the type of artist that Wayne is. We wanted to do something that matched him. Here at Mountain Dew, we love the type of artist Wayne is. He’s bold. We also love that he skates. So that for us is organic and feels right. The next step was figuring out the right way to do it. One key thing we did was partner with a nonprofit called STOKED. That was a situation where we let the kids concept the commercial. Instead of making it a regular soda commercial, we wanted to make it interesting and noteworthy and that’s what Wayne loved about it. It was unexpected. Like with Wayne, it all starts with the artist.


What about Tyler, the Creator?
For Tyler, he told me he wanted to direct and film movies. The best way to portray that was to let him direct the commercial. Fans know that he directed every Odd Future piece so he has his own capabilities. We decided to partner with Loiter Squad, which is something that means a lot to him. It’s show on Adult Swim. We wanted him to gives us that same tone of voice from the show and that crazy comedy element to bring it to life. He went out of his way with it. He did everything and presented it to us. He literally used his Instagram handle and created a character. He’s definitely the most creative person I’ve ever met. He’s just one of those dudes that’s going to be the Pharell type and do all types of stuff in his lifetime. He has that energy.


Is that why you’re described as a risk-taker?
To the consumers, the moves we made with Wayne and Tyler seems right. Of course we would let Tyler direct his own commercial, that’s not crazy. But unfortunately, in a corporate environment, those moves are crazy because people just don’t want to take risk because you just don’t know what will work. It’s still early so it’s unproven. It can go bad really quick. It’s risky being the guy in the corporate company pounding the table saying we need to do this. We’re pushing these ideas, making them happen and hopefully consumers are scratching their head thinking, Damn, I don’t know how Mountain Dew does it.

Can you offer some advice for those following in your footsteps?
I would just say to ask a lot of questions. There’s so much in this game that’s taking for granted, whether in branding or in the music world. A lot of people chuck it off to sticking with how things were done in the past. The best thing anyone has over told me was to ask a lot of questions and question the status quo. When you do that, a lot of the time you unlock something. When people say we’ve never done it before. That’s not a reason not to do it. Also, be diverse on a lot of topics because you never know when you’ll run into the right people.

What can we expect from you in the coming months?
Definitely look forward to DeWeezy. We have some cool stuff happening with that. We also have this whole campaign with “This is how we Dew.” It’s coming to life in a big way. With Green Label Sound, we just put out a song by Joey Bad ass called “Unorthodox,” which is one of his most popular songs. We have a lot more in store.

Follow Jamal Henderson on Twitter: @MalHenny

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