Philadelphia hip-hop artist Meek Mill has certainly earned a lot of publicity in the past few weeks. Shortly after he released his new album, he publicly accused another rapper of not writing his own lyrics – a pretty scandalous statement, given that the other rapper is Drake, one of the most popular artists in popular music, not to mention a collaborator of Meek’s.
The feud led to both releasing their own “diss tracks,” and they’ve each been trending on social networks as the public weighs in on who they support. All the attention has some people wondering if the entire battle was a savvy marketing move by Meek:
I am ambivalent on Meek Mill as a rapper, but baiting Drake into a week long feud just as his album dropped is brilliant marketing
— Dan Pfeiffer (@danpfeiffer) July 29, 2015
If it was a calculated move, it’s certainly a risky one. There are probably many people who never heard of Meek but now have because of the controversy, and the fact that he’s top of mind to hip-hop fans may have boosted sales.
But any additional sales and attention Meek earns will have to be weighed against those fans who take Drake’s side. Meek’s album has been selling very well, but he’s also seen a lot of backlash, from getting booed at a concert in Toronto – Drake’s hometown – to celebrities publicly proclaiming that Drake’s gotten the better of him.
While it’s far too early to say whether Meek’s brand will benefit from the situation, it’s a good case study in how engaging with a lesser-known antagonizer can elevate awareness of the upstart. This has not only proven true in other hip-hop feuds – 50 Cent received a huge boost in publicity when he first antagonized Jay-Z to respond to one of his songs – but it also happens in the business world. Earlier this year, Netflix propelled a torrent streaming application called Popcorn Time to increased popularity when it mentioned the service in a shareholder letter.
This is important context when dealing with crises as well. We always counsel our clients to avoid mentioning a negative accusation. Simply bringing up an allegation or criticism puts it back in the minds of readers or listeners, and research has shown that people often remember the story, but forget that it’s disputed or even proven false. For the same reason, newspaper and magazines often run corrections without mentioning what the exact mistake was – they just provide the updated, accurate information. Reiterating wrong information can reinforce it, which researchers call the “backfire effect.”
On the other hand, is there an incentive for underdogs to publicly instigate a larger entity into mentioning them, tricking them into using their larger platform to make more people aware of themselves? It would be a dangerous strategy to advise, because it cedes control of telling your own story by relying on another party to tell your story first. For that reason, it remains to be seen if Meek’s brand will be better known for authenticity, troublemaking, or whatever Drake portrays it to be. So far, it’s not looking too good.