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What RUN-DMC Taught Me

Run-DMCSome lessons you have to wait for. The message might come but it might not click for hours, months or even years. When I was a high school freshman in the 80s, artists like Eric B & Rakim, LL Cool J and BDP were breaking new musical ground and advancing an emerging art and culture we called Hip Hop. The biggest group of the time was easily RUN-DMC. While BDP worked to earn respect across the five borroughs of New York City, it was Run, D and Jay that took it WORLD WIDE. Hip Hop heads from Jersey to Japan all wanted that coveted spot in Run’s House. Funny as it sounds, they were the first Hip Hop artists that actually looked like us. And in return, as much as we valued originality and uniqueness, we emulated their style of speak, their walk, their dress.

At the height of their ride, after becoming the biggest act in popular music, after selling millions of records and touring the world, after becoming Hip Hop superheroes, they were finally returning home to their native New York City. By then, they were no longer  a club act. They were filling arenas. And they were back to play the most famous arena in the world — Madison Square Garden.

Having tried to capitalize on their growing fame, the group (with manager Russell Simmons) had been pitching Adidas for some time in hopes of winning a contract to promote their sneakers and apparel. It was a hard (if not impossible) sell. The breakthrough came when Adidas marketing executives were invited to their show at The Garden. Knowing the Adidas reps were present, Run makes a request of the audience just before performing their hit single “My Adidas”.

I want everybody in the house that’s got adidas on to put one shoe in the air

Nearly 20,000 Adidas sneakers were raised. The company reps were officially geeked. The band had a sponsor, a new contract and, ultimately, their own signature shoe within months of that show. They were the first non-athletes to enjoy such honors from an athletic apparel company. In an instant, a trio of 20 year olds stood a few miles from the neighborhoods that raised them and illustrated with grand authority the power of culture and event marketing. Through an emerging culture, they made a statement that gave credibility to the Adidas brand in a way their traditional ad campaigns never could. It was organic. And through an insanely experiential event marketing stunt at the famed Madison Square Garden, the brand became even more deeply ingrained into the psyche of those that made up this global hip hop nation.

Years later, as a marketing strategist, I spend my days pairing my clients with the the most viable approaches and strategies for advancing their brands. We often employ a mix of marketing efforts relying on events, social media, web, PR, guerilla promotions, and word-of-mouth buzz. From where I stand now, I can’t help but appreciate the lesson that a group of 20 somethings in black hats and laceless shelltoe Adidas taught me as a teen. I’m using it every day.


Thomas Breeze


Thomas Breeze
Founder, Slicker Interactive Marketing