Steve Stoute has ensured The GAP will never live down one of it’s biggest embarrassments ever. In his new book, The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy,”the marketing guru writes about how L.L. Cool J managed to rock a hat emblazoned with the logo for his company FUBU and work the brand’s name into a commercial for the GAP back in the day.
Here’s the details:
One of the biggest cultural and economic shifts to hit America has its roots in LL Cool J’s hat.
So writes brand-marketing guru Steve Stoute in his book, “The Tanning of America: How Hip-Hop Created a Culture That Rewrote the Rules of the New Economy.”
The Gotham Books tome examines how hip-hop culture and mainstream America collided in the 1990s, “blurring cultural and demographic so permanently,” Stoute writes, “that it laid the foundation for a transformation.”
Stoute tells us the idea for the book came almost four years ago when he was traveling around the world for his client Samsung and realized how pervasive hip-hop music and fashion had become outside the U.S.
“It made me think about how this culture had become a universal language,” he says.
According to “The Tanning of America,” a seminal moment of this revolution occurred in 1997, when Queens rapper LL Cool J did what Stoute calls “one of the most unapologetic, bold and daring things I’ve ever seen anyone do.”
The Gap clothing line, looking to reinvigorate its brand, had signed the rapper for a TV commercial. When Cool went before the cameras, he wore a Gap outfit, but clueless producers let him keep on the hat he’d worn to the shoot.
That cap was emblazoned with the logo of what was then a fledgling clothing company marketing to young African-Americans: FUBU.
Cool, who had a piece of the business, even rapped the company’s full name, For Us, By Us, in mid-commercial, adding a sly “on the low” – code, Stoute says, that told viewers to buy FUBU “via word of mouth, like a street drug.”
The rapper had “just piggybacked FUBU onto Gap’s megabrand global massmarketing ad campaign,” Stoute writes. He adds that when he saw the TV ad, “It was like being hit by lightning.”
Thanks to the shout-out, FUBU “went galactic,” and Gap executives were red-faced. More importantly, Stoute writes, America’s “new tan culture” had officially blossomed and the “economic reverberations of it can still be felt to this day.”
Stoute’s book hits stores Sept. 8, but is already being toasted and talked about around town. On Tuesday, N.Y. Yankees president Randy Levine and wife Mindy hosted an evening in honor of Stoute and “The Tanning of America” in their box at Yankees Stadium.
Congrats to Steve on his new book — and LL on pulling off that sneaky move.
Here’s the commercial in case you forgot it: