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Beats by Dre’s EVP of marketing Omar Johnson on why fearlessness has become its core brand message

Fearlessness has become one of the core pillars of Dr Dre’s Beats’ brand and marketing strategy, according to its EVP of global marketing Omar Johnson.

Speaking at Cannes Lions festival, alongside its agency partner R/GA, Johnson said the secret to its company growth and marketing strategy is a “relentless passion” to speak only the truth – a mantra which has shaped its entire brand identity.

“Truth is the foundation of our brand – from all we do across sports, headphones and music – it is all based on truth. The difference between us and other brands is we have a relentless passion to tell truth even if unsavoury or uncomfortable for people who don’t want to hear it – this brand lives it – we want to be known for being fearless,” he said.

The original strategy outlined by founder Dr Dre was to inject emotion back into the world, and in order to that he said Beats must create a “revolution in sound”, according to Johnson. “I thought 'oh shit that’s big' – and for it to work our first pillar had to be truth.”

Another of its core pillars is culture around music, sport fashion and art, and looking at ways to play into conversations around those areas.

Johnson dismissed rumours and media speculation that the brand pays for celebrity endorsements, given the number of famous athletes and musicians who are constantly sporting its headphones.

“We have become a choice of the best – whether it’s for, athletes, musicians and artists...I want to dispel the myths that we pay endorsements to these celebrities to do this – we don’t at all. We do have a select few partners, but our business isn’t big enough to go and pay all that talent. We have become an authentic part of pre-game wardrobe,” [for athletes] he said.

R/GA and Beats together have thrown out the traditional or “static” agency brief approach in favour of a fast turnaround, real time content method which treats all mediums, including TV, equally when it comes to deploying dynamic, real-time creative.

This has seen it at times create and insert TV spots on the fly within major live programmes to ensure it becomes part of a conversation in real time and capitalise on contextual marketing.

He cited the Pills campaign for its new speaker system, which featured Tichina Arnold, Chris Rock, and Eminem (see below) as a major example of this, when it created and ran a TV spot in reaction after singer Myra Sylas danced provocatively with Robbie Williams on stage during a performance on TV. It created an entirely new Pills campaign which was pushed out in the next ad break of the show.

R/GA London VP, managing director and executive creative director James Temple admitted it was “uncomfortable” initially to work with Beats given Jimmy and Dre are clients, but also creative directors in their own right.

“We had to trump them and try and challenge them in new ways. There were no treatments, no day-long meetings and production schedules that last days – everything was done immediately. We took the approach of ‘fuck briefs’ – and so we would text, call each other, it’s fairly relentless but the idea of a static brief that sits on a piece of paper and is talked about for the next few months, wouldn’t work – we had to be super relevant and timely,” said Temple.

This method became the backbone for its 'Hear what you Want' campaign, using real stories from athletes as to why they choose to wear Beats headphones in their pre-game warm ups. The various responses inspired by athletes including Italian striker Mario Balotelli who would have to endure racist abuse from fans of rival teams at matches.

However, Johnson stressed that it didn't want to become too heavily involved in the topic of racism, which he said was too large an issue for it to tackle, instead it used it as inspiration for a series of campaigns in which Beats can demonstrate the true reason why atheletes use its headphones - so they can hear what they choose. Basketball star Kevin Garnett was the first to be feature in the campaign series, one of the latest of which has included footballer Cesc Fabregas (pictured below).

Opening the session R/GA founder and chairman Bob Greenberg joked that the original title of the session ‘How to build a billion dollar business ‘ had been changed to ‘How to build a three billion dollar brand’, following its acquisition by Apple.

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Jessica Davies

All by Jessica