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How Music Videos Are Becoming More Like Beauty Product Infomercials

Making music is no longer enough to guarantee a steady paycheck.

The new Nicki Minaj video for "Pills and Potions" skews borderline Bjork on the bizarre scale. It feels earnest and alien; I love it a lot. But you couldn’t have missed that five-second perfume spot smack dab in the middle of the video. With this, Minaj is walking in the lucrative footsteps of other pop princesses --Miley, Britney, Eve, Little Mix, Ciara, Fergie, Gwen Stefani (in both No Doubt and solo acts), Lil’ Kim, Iggy Azalea and of course Lil’ Mama have all mentioned beauty brands in their videos, if not in the lyrics themselves.

The history of product placement in music videos is relatively new. The first music video went live on MTV in 1981 -- the first product placement moment in pop occurred about 20 years later. “It started really emerging in the early 2000s, then saw a decrease with the economic crisis of 2008,” Renaud Skalli, the head of artist and labor relations at My Love Affair, a placement agency that works with Justin Bieber, Iggy Pop and others, said. “It’s since resurged.”

British pop group Little Mix mentioned Live Color XXL, a hair dye brand, in its video for "How You Doin" and Miley Cyrus featured EOS lip balm in her now infamous "We Can’t Stop" video. Eve gave a shout out to MAC in her classic video "Tambourine." Younger stars are cashing in on placement earlier in their careers.  Iggy Azalea placed Barry M cosmetics in her music video for "Change Your Life" and the up-and-coming artist Dev put a spotlight on her CK lipstick collaboration in her video "Kiss It." 

 There’s a specific pattern to how pop stars sneakily promote products. All visual mentions of the brands generally last four to eight seconds each. Then there will be one to two seconds of a close up, so no mistake can be made about what brand it is. And the more popular the artist, the longer the spot and the more products an artist can get away with in one video. “Only the biggest pop artists on the planet would be open to more than three different paid product placements in one music video. . . like Jennifer Lopez or Lady Gaga,” Skalli said. (Indeed, J.Lo has featured multiple products in several videos. In 2011, her video for “Papi” featured no less than four, including one for a dating site.) Each placement can get an artist anywhere from $15,000 to a quarter of a million dollars, according to Skalli. Not bad for four seconds of work.

You might assume that the placement comes from brands eager to connect their names with artists', but it’s the other way around, typically. For Skalli, artists come to him with a storyline for a music video and he vets brands for them to work with. It’s a plum gig, and an exclusive one when it happens. Most collaborations that net higher fees only happen when there are two or three artists at a time who can together guarantee 100-200 million views.

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It becomes more complex when stars are shilling their own products – and in the long term perhaps more rewarding, too. Since so many pop stars now either have deals with cosmetics companies or have their own fragrances, it makes sense that we’re seeing so many placements of this kind.  Britney Spears’s perfume empire, for example, will likely keep her rich long after she retires from music. Estimates for how much she cashes in annually range from $30 million to much, much more. (Then there's Beyoncé. While she doesn’t promote her perfumes in her music videos, she did provide samples of Heat and sold it with other merchandise during The Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. Heat was the best-selling celebrity fragrance collection worldwide in 2013.)

The success of Spears’s perfume empire has been a one-two punch between really good formulations (no really -- Midnight Fantasy garnered a perfect five-star review from Chandler Burr of the New York Times when it debuted in 2009) and also because of how she markets the perfumes with her music. While her single "Perfume" may have failed to make many sales, the actual perfumes showcased within the video are still profitable, according to Elizabeth Arden's 2013 shareholders' report. (As Spears's career winds down, though, it will be interesting to see if Elizabeth Arden renews her fragrance license, which is up this year.) 

Brand and artist collaborations are becoming par for the course of celebrity now, particularly when it comes to beauty, and it probably won't stop anytime soon. With the payment dispute between YouTube and indie music labels raging on, it’s becoming evident that the product placement model is evolving into new and less explicit forms of marketing as musicians explore alternative revenue streams. 

Let’s just say I’m patiently awaiting a gift set of travel-sized perfumes that comes with the music videos dedicated to them. The first song/scent combo will, of course, be "Perfume." 

Photos: Screengrabs/YouTube