Rihanna 'slays' product placement and may have 'ambush marketed' her own performance at Super Bowl LVII
We won't pretend to know the rules to American Football (we barely know the rules to rugby) and one of us isn't particularly familiar with Rihanna's oeuvre (aside from 'Umbrella'), but we were very interested in Rihanna's Super Bowl LVII performance. You may have seen headlines such as "Even during her Super Bowl performance, Rihanna didn't miss an opportunity to elevate Fenty Beauty." or "Rihanna fans lose it as she whips out Fenty powder mid Super Bowl show" and it certainly got these lawyers thinking.
Product placement is not often associated with musicians. While often dressed stylishly (or outlandishly) and occasionally wielding unique or enviable instruments (Prince's purple guitar at Super Bowl XLI springs to mind), rarely do musical artists brandish the more quotidian (and mass consumable) items of normal life. So hats off to Rihanna who, with a mix of style and nonchalance, used her 'Fenty Beauty Invisimatte Instant Setting & Blotting Powder' (yours for a mere £55.65) during her Super Bowl halftime performance. This simple act showcased her Fenty brand to over 100 million TV viewers as well as 63,000 spectators; garnering $5.6 million in media impact value in the first 12 hours following the performance (evidenced by the reported 833 percent increase in Google searches for Fenty Beauty, the fourth most searched term of the evening).
But how did the event's 'traditional' advertisers feel about this? Brands were reportedly charged around $7 million for a 30-second long commercial and we imagine some of them may have felt aggrieved that their products were outshone by an innovative move by the musician (who also got 13 minutes of playtime). General Motors and Netflix, who arguably had the best advert of the evening, only increased site traffic by 50%... possibly because consumers were still googling Fenty. If a major makeup brand had paid for advertising (and this author does not believe any had), we imagine they would have been particularly aggrieved by the attention given to Fenty.
Could Rihanna's product placement therefore be considered 'ambush marketing'? Ambush marketing usually occurs when an unaffiliated brand 'piggy backs' on the goodwill of and eyeballs on a major event (think Stella Artois' clever placement of billboards with strong tennis references despite not being an official sponsor of the 2011 US Open or the orange minidress sporting 'Bavaria Blondes' at the 2010 World Cup despite Budweiser being an official sponsor). Rihanna, obviously, is affiliated with the Super Bowl (and she reportedly paid between $10 and $20 million in production costs for such honour). But the organisers may only have expected her to showcase her music (Rihanna saw a 211% increase in on-demand streams and a 390% increase in digital song sales) and not to advertise her own products. Particularly as advertising her own products is arguably to the detriment of the other Super Bowl advertisers. In our experience, it is not usual practice for artist booking agreements to contain prohibitions on product placement, so it is unlikely that Rihanna has done anything that would be in breach of her agreement. But it will be interesting to see if any future artists who also have brands to promote seek to emulate Rihanna's product placement (at the risk of coming across après garde), or if the Super Bowl organisers (and others like them) seek to restrict this in their contracts.