Lil Nas X is advertising’s new golden child – here are his 6 best stunts yet
Rapper and meme god Lil Nas X is taking over advertising. From Super Bowl spots for major brands to his own playful promos for his latest singles, here are The Drum’s picks for his best work yet.
Lil Nas X is the internet’s anointed one, and now that popularity is filtering into the ad world
Already a Grammy Award-winning artist and the internet’s favorite personality, Lil Nas X is adding a new title to his growing CV: adland’s anointed one.
The breakout hip-hop star, whose debut album Montero dropped last week, is stealing the spotlight from advertising darling Ryan Reynolds as well as fronting high-budget spots from the likes of Uber Eats and Logitech. Meanwhile, the artist has in recent months launched a handful of his own cheeky marketing stunts – that, in signature style, play into parody and controversy – to promote his own music.
As Lil Nas X ascends the throne, The Drum takes inventory of his best ads yet.
Doritos’ Old Town Road-inspired ‘cool ranch’ dance-off
An homage to Lil Nas X’s record-breaking single Old Town Road starring Billy Ray Cyrus – which just this week became the first record to ever to reach 15 times platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America – this Doritos ad was among the most memorable from the 2020 Super Bowl.
In the style of a classic Western, the spot pits Lil Nas X and actor Sam Elliott against one another in a spur-studded showdown in a small town. To hash it out over a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos, the two stars forgo the gun fight in favor of a dance battle to Old Town Road. The rapper comes out on top, thanks to the dancing skills of, well, his horse, naturally. Billy Ray Cyrus even makes a surprise cameo at the end of the ad.
As part of the campaign, Doritos encouraged fans to make their own augmented reality dance videos using an app called Sway: Magic Dance and share their creations on social media with the hashtag #CoolRanchDance.
‘Satan Shoes’ lead to Nike mockery
In the rapper’s most controversial stunt to date, Lil Nas X shattered the internet when he unveiled his custom human blood-infused, pentagram-clad Nike kicks in early 2020. Emblazoned with ‘Luke 10:18’ on one side – a reference to the Bible verse, which reads, “And he said unto them, I beheld Satan as lightning fall from heaven” – the black and red Air Max 97s were born of a collaboration between the rapper and New York-based art collective MSCHF. The response was nothing short of insanity: the shoes sold out in under one minute as Christian evangelicals launched petitions, Twitter lost its mind and Nike promptly filed a lawsuit against MSCHF.
The trademark infringement case, which had Lil Nas X discouraged per a Tweet sent on April 1, was settled within two weeks. But it served as fuel for further publicity stunts: after announcing he had a court hearing over the sneaker debacle – and making waves as #FreeLilNasX memes circulated the internet – it became clear that Lil Nas X was, well, trolling as usual. The ‘hearing’ was not a real hearing, but a court-themed teaser video for the rapper’s forthcoming single Industry Baby, featuring Jack Harlow. In the parodic video, Lil Nas X plays the roles of himself, cast as the defendant – as well as the judge, the defense attorney, the prosecutor and a juror. In the fictional story, he’s sentenced to jail time not for trademark infringement, but for being gay.
But the fun wasn’t over for Lil Nas X. When legendary skateboarder Tony Hawk cashed in on the macabre trend by launching a line of skateboard decks painted with his own blood to widespread support, the rapper called out the hypocrisy online. Just a few days later, the two celebs teamed up on a social media skating stunt to show that there was no bad blood between them.
Defying logic with Logitech
In this Logitech 2020 Super Bowl spot, created by the brand’s in-house team, a blue-haired Lil Nas X delivers a monologue about challenging the status quo with bold ideas and fearless individuality. “We stand there in defiance – we the makers, we the groundbreakers, we the creators, the streamers and dreamers. We defy expectations, perceptions and misconceptions. We defy what logic says we should look like, sound like, be like.”
Scenes of creatives engaged in various activities, from recording podcasts to mixing music and creating digital art (all with the help of Logitech products), are parsed against a backdrop of Lil Nas X’s single Montero (Call Me By Your Name), which in March debuted at No 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100. The ad concludes with the lines: “To create the future, we must defy the logic of the past. We must defy logic.”
The spot is part of a larger effort by Logitech to invest in creators and activists. “Our mission in working with Lil Nas X and the creator community is to celebrate the innovators and disrupters, and shine a light on those making an immeasurable dent on pop culture,” Meridith Rojas, global head of creator marketing at Logitech, said in a statement released upon the campaign’s launch. “We don’t want to just work with creators, we want to support them and be a part of a movement. Our collaboration with Lil Nas X is just the beginning.”
Serving looks – to get Uber Eats served – alongside Elton John
Lil Nas X stars alongside the legendary Elton John in this theatrical spot from Uber Eats, which again was an internet smash. “Tonight, I’ll be eating lobster ravioli with shaved truffle,” the rapper proclaims, perched upon what appears to be a throne and decked head-to-toe in a colorful feathered get-up and round glasses à la Rocket Man’s Hollywood Bowl costume. A sparkling Uber Eats bag appears on cue. Viewers then glimpse of the legendary pianist himself, sporting a bedazzled pink suit, pink cowboy hat and cowboy boots – a recreation of Lil Nas X’s 2020 Grammys red carpet look. “You look amazing,” Elton John says. “No, you look amazing,” Lil Nas retorts. The two exchange “thank you” back and forth until the end of the spot to viewers’ bemusement.
The ad isn’t the two musicians’ only collaboration; Elton John is featured in Lil Nas X’s new track One of Me, part of the album Montero.
Created by Special Group Australia, the cheeky spot is part of Uber Eats’s ‘Tonight I’ll Be Eating’ campaign, which has featured a range of other celebrity duos including Kim Kardashian and Sharon Strzelecki as well as Mark Hamill and Patrick Stewart.
Taking a page from personal injury lawyers
To promote the release of his new album Montero, Lil Nas X invested in some traditional out of home (OOH) advertising – with a nontraditional approach to messaging. Erected around Los Angeles county earlier this month, a smattering of billboards parody classic ads for personal injury lawyers and the highway billboards of right-wing interest groups. “Gay? You may be entitled to financial compensation! Visit welcometomontero.com,” reads one billboard. “Do you miss the real America?” reads another billboard. “Visit welcometomontero.com to see how we can take our country back!”
To further promote Montero, Lil Nas X relied on his wacky antics per usual – he shared pregnancy-themed photos on Instagram to symbolize the birthing of his debut album ‘due September 17’, and even created a parody talk show that was promoted across social media.
Getting down and dirty with Durex
In the music video for his new single That’s What I Want, Lil Nas X is cast as an injured player on a college football team. In the locker room, he has a steamy encounter with another player. After a passionate makeout sesh, the two head to the showers, where viewers get a close-up shot of the rapper tearing open a Durex condom wrapper with his diamond-encrusted grillz.
Upon the release of the video, Durex thanked the hip hop star for including its product in the video and for “[demonstrating] that explorative and exciting sex can be safer sex,” per statement shared with The Drum.
The playful product placement appears to be part of a larger deal between Lil Nas X and the Reckitt Benckiser-owned condom and personal lubricant brand. On September 18, the rapper shared a still from the music video to Instagram, writing, “It’s sexual health month and Montero is born!!! Now I’m protecting myself and everything that’s beautiful about me with @Durex_usa. Let’s celebrate by recognizing sexual health and wellness for everyone, whatever their gender/sexual identity and expression.”
Debuted on September 17 with the launch of Montero, the That’s What I Want music video has already garnered some 28 and a half million views on YouTube.