One day last year I was on YouTube watching some BET Cypher videos, and I kept noticing Sprite’s name plastered over everything. Over the next couple months, I began to take notice of Sprite’s absolute ubiquity in hip-hop culture—from event sponsorship to its prevalence in the “lean” movement and the music and culture that spawned. Hell, just the other day, the soda giant paired LeBron James with Lil Yachty.
Being the inquisitive stoner I am, I began to look into the matter and quickly learned that this was no coincidence. Sprite has worked hard to acquire hip-hop’s loyalty through a genuine connection to the culture.
In the late '80s, hip-hop’s stranglehold on popular culture was just beginning to take shape, and every corporate entity was trying to lock down the “urban” demographic, usually with incredibly corny and poorly-executed rap hijackings.
Around the same time Adidas hit their marketing jackpot by inking a deal with Run-DMC, Sprite wisely kicked off their “I Love The Sprite In You” campaign, tapping artists like Kurtis Blow, LL Cool J, Kid 'n Play and more to represent their brand to hip-hop culture.
The campaign was successful, but in the early '90s, as brands like 7-Up began to offer more competition, Sprite doubled down on their relationship with hip-hop. With the help of their visionary brand manager Darryl Cobbin, Sprite began to tap artists that, while not as big in terms of popularity, had an underground following that allowed the brand to reach depths of hip-hop culture that no other brand had been able to accomplish.
I wanted to usher in a real authenticity in terms of hip-hop in advertising. We wanted to pay respect to the music and the culture. What's imporant is the value of hip-hop culture, not only as an image, but as a method of communication - Darryl Cobbins, The Hip-Hop Generation: Young Blacks and the Crisis in African-American Culture
Under Cobbin’s advisement, Sprite tapped Grand Puba and Large Professor for an advertisement spot in 1994. In the commercial, Puba fist-bumps Large Professor and says the line, “First things first: Obey Your Thirst.” It’s speculated that Puba ad-libbed this line in rehearsals, yet the potency was so clear that “Obey Your Thirst” became Sprite’s tagline off and on to this very day.
To deepen their street cred, Sprite went on to collaborate with artists like KRS-One, A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, AZ, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, a move that resulted in an invaluable “cool factor” for the brand. As an aside to their marketing campaigns, Sprite fostered a healthy relationship with the hip-hop community through sponsoring festivals and events like the BET Cypher series, which made the company one of the fastest growing brands in the soft drink industry for years.
Today, Sprite’s presence within hip-hop culture isn’t even questioned, becoming as integral to the culture as Timbaland or Adidas. Sprite continues to offer its financial support to artists (Vince Staples), festivals and events across the country, placing the company in a much more honorable standing than your average corporate culture vulture.
Sprite’s story isn’t the only one of its kind, but it’s at or near the top of the list of corporate relationships with a culture that, at its core, rejects the touch of corporatism in favor of grassroots hustle.
By Brent Bradley. Follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Sprite