Like any music genre, hip-hop can generate some intense gatekeeping. A common complaint old school fans lob at up-and-comers is about the move away from precise technical delivery to more melodic flows. Critics can paint emerging styles in less generous terms, including that they sound like people trying to rap with a mouthful of peanut butter.
At least, that's an insight Jif and agency partner Publicis New York uncovered when researching the latest leg of a "That Jif'ing Good" platform launched in 2019.
"Through social listening, we stumbled on a link between peanut butter and hip-hop's newer flows," said Rebecca Scheidler, vice president of marketing at Jif, in an email. "The cultural debate stemmed from differing stylistic opinions. We saw an opportunity to unite the two sides with some Jif peanut butter and two of the biggest names in hip-hop."
The end result is the "Lil Jif Project" campaign launching today that stars rappers Ludacris and Gunna and encompasses TV and digital video ads, social media activations on platforms like TikTok and an original song. Additionally, the J.M. Smucker Company brand is making a donation to Boys & Girls Club, Ludacris' charity of choice. The CPG marketer also paired Ludacris with jewelry designer Icebox on special diamond-and-ruby peanut butter jar bling that will be auctioned off at a later date. Across these efforts, Jif is attempting to bridge the gap of where hip-hop's been and where it's heading next.
"We put our heads together and thought, okay, what's the angle here? How can we insert ourselves in this conversation?" said Erica Roberts, Publicis New York's chief creative officer. "We wanted to do it in a way that closed that divide; that opened people's minds to how awesome this new style of rap was."
"What keeps it so exciting and what makes it the most popular genre in music is that it is always evolving," she added.
A new flow
With the pickiness of hip-hop fans in mind, Jif and Publicis sought ambassadors who could help them navigate a music space where the brand did not have established credibility. Coincidentally, Ludacris — a stalwart of the Dirty South school of rap famous for his fast flows — was a big Jif fan and happily agreed to sign on, according to Roberts. For a rising star, Jif picked Gunna, another artist from the Atlanta scene who's a standard-bearer of the city's current style.
"Lil Jif Project" tries to find a middle ground between the generations while also creating something fresh. The centerpiece of this approach is a new single Ludacris dropped Thursday titled "Butter.ATL." The track is laden with Jif references but doesn't immediately draw a connection to the brand's marketing. It marks Ludacris' first standalone single in years — his last full-length album release was in 2015 — and shows the "Fast & Furious" star dexterously shift gears between his typical rat-a-tat approach and a looser, Auto-Tuned delivery.
"It's definitely his first big release in a while," Roberts said of Ludacris. "He was super into it because it allowed him to kind of reenter into this space with a totally new sound."
A hero ad helmed by veteran music video director Dave Meyers captures the song's creative process, with Ludacris struggling to get into a rhythm in the recording booth before eating a spoonful of Jif to unlock the sound he's searching for, complete with a physical transformation into a vintage Ludacris look. In the video, the song gets the nod from Gunna and then takes off on the charts, drawing YouTube-like reaction videos, with Ludacris eventually performing it to packed music festivals.
"This is not meant to be a jingle; this is meant to be a true single," Roberts said.
"If you are playing in this space, you have to be 100% authentic," she added. "This really was intended to pay homage to this newer genre and get people on board with it."
Spreading the word
Jif continues to position its product as more culture-oriented, a broader mandate J.M. Smucker has put forward since consolidating the U.S. media and creative business for many of its top brands under Publicis in 2018. Earlier this year, the packaged foods marketer also named Publicis' dedicated PSOne shop as its omnichannel marketing agency of record, per AgencySpy.
Recent Jif campaigns have shown the creamy spread label leaning more toward memes and social media trends than its historic family focus. A push last year saw the brand finally weigh in on the long-running "gif versus jif" pronunciation debate around the GIF moving image format. The creative stirred online conversation and affirmed the brand's new lease on messaging.
"For the first time in the brand's history, we were able to play in this more irreverent space," Roberts said.
For "Lil Jif Project," the marketer is flipping the ad's concept into a TikTok duet challenge that asks users to try and recite a verse from "Butter.ATL" with peanut butter in their mouth. The #JifRapChallenge will be supported by TikTok influencers, including Ludacris' official page, while Jif is deploying Instagram creators to court new devotees. Even as it addresses somewhat divisive subject matter, Jif is trying to keep things light, per Roberts.
"The tone of voice for the campaign, across every touchpoint we describe it as epically absurd," Roberts said. "As we do social listening and try to keep an ear out for what's going on, it's always listening through that lens."