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Sprite is encouraging fans to tune into a livestream concert series featuring Latto, Saweetie, Jack Harlow and a number of emerging hip hop stars using QR codes on its 20 oz. bottles. The initiative, however, is more than a pandemic-conscious digital activation; it's an extension of the brand’s longstanding investment in hip hop culture.

Sprite is headlong into its exclusive virtual hip hop concert series, Live From The Label, starring some of today’s most popular artists, including Atlanta-based rapper Latto, multi-platinum artist Saweetie and Grammy-nominated star Jack Harlow. Latto’s show debuted July 29; Saweetie and Jack Harlow will headline their own shows on August 12 and August 18, respectively.

The effort largely reflects the times: all the events are fully-virtual and access to the shows doesn’t require tickets or RSVPs — fans need only purchase a 20 oz. bottle of Sprite or Sprite Zero Sugar and scan the QR code on the bottle. During the events, users are given new means by which to engage with the brand and one another, from using chat and polling features to sending customized Sprite brand emojis. But behind these digital experiences is a rich history of investing in hip hop and the artists and creators who shape music and popular culture.

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Staying hip (hop)

Beyond representing a foray into the digital-first realm of brand activations, Live From The Label builds on Sprite’s longstanding investment in and celebration of hip hop culture. The series is an extension of the “Thirst For Yours” brand platform. Originally created by Wieden+Kennedy in 2019, it spotlights hip hop greats and, according to Terika Fasakin, Sprite brand director, North America, “has furthered the brand’s commitment to supporting emerging creators and elevating voices that too often go unheard.”

Sprite’s history of celebrating hip hop culture is much deeper; it goes as far back as 1986, when New York-based rapper Kurtis Blow starred in a commercial for the fizzy lemon-lime beverage. Then, in the 90s, Sprite teamed with some of hip hop’s living legends, including A Tribe Called Quest, Nas, Grand Puba and Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth, for its “Obey Your Thirst” campaign. In 2015, Nas returned, partnering up with hip hop’s golden child Drake to retell the story of the campaign. Drake himself was a mainstay of the Sprite brand throughout the 2010s, beginning with an iconic spot depicting the Toronto-based artist literally disintegrating and returning to life — all thanks to an invigorating sip of Sprite.

Building on this legacy, each show in the Live From The Label concert series features opening acts selected through Sprite Way, the brand’s Spotify-hosted podcast and playlist featuring independent and up-and-coming hip hop artists. Each headliner has selected their openers from a curated shortlist of options from Sprite Way. The headliners are working alongside the emerging artists, offering mentorship and even designing merchandise through a series of Zoom meetings and other events.

“This program is the latest example of Sprite’s dedication to putting on young multicultural artists who are shaping the future of the genre through their work,” Fasakin tells The Drum. She stresses that investing in emerging artists is “in alignment with our brand’s core values.” 

Cultural capital and cash capital

As with many of Sprite’s brand marketing efforts, the Live From The Label series aims to engage with audiences at the nexus of important cultural conversations. “What Sprite does best is use passion points to connect with fans in culturally relevant ways reflective of where they’ve been and what they’ve experienced,” A.P. Chaney, creative director of sparkling flavors said in a statement.

In this vein, the brand launched the special #CreateYourFuture non-partisan voter education program last fall, encouraging young fans to vote in the November elections. Fans were encouraged to share the reasons for their vote; the brand then shared these messages across various channels and through its partners in the hip hop community. The program was one of a handful of initiatives launched by Sprite over the last 18 months in support of social engagement, public health and equity.

 In June, the brand launched “The Give Back” collaboration in partnership with leading hip hop voices, including Metro Boomin and 2 Chainz, to offer resources and support to those disproportionately affected by the dual traumas of racial inequality and the Covid pandemic. The brand also donated $500,000 to the Black Lives Matter Global Network at the peak of the protests surrounding George Floyd’s death last summer. “We always want to make sure we stay true to our core consumers and the issues on their minds,” said Chaney.

Of course, Live From The Label won’t merely serve as a means by which to participate in the cultural conversation. It’s likely to help Sprite drive higher sales, which will contribute to the momentum its parent company Coca-Cola has seen in recent months. The Coca-Cola Company’s second quarter earnings report indicates that, across its portfolio of brands, the company’s net revenue has increased 42% year-over-year. It attributes some of this success to the economic recovery currently underway in many markets impacted by the Covid-19 crisis.

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Promotional efforts surrounding the events will be primarily social media-based. The artists are offering exclusive merch drops and surprise giveaways on their own channels, while Sprite has rolled out a variety of content meant to highlight the artists, promote merch and educate fans on how to access the shows. Additional retail, radio and outdoor placements will be used to promote the summer series. 

Fasakin, for one, believes the effort is especially well-timed. “Live From The Label is a way of providing our audience with a summer of hip hop during a time when live music has been greatly missed, and ensuring equitable access to performances featuring major hip hop headliners by leveraging our 20 oz. bottles...as the ticket.”

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