Is Macklemore a “sell out”? A Lesson in Social Media Marketing

By February 22, 2013Social Media

It’s no secret that we at Confluence Digital love us some Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.  It’s not uncommon to step into our office on any given day and hear tracks from The Heist bumping us all into a good mood. And so it’s not surprising that this is now my second blog post on the artists and his use of social media marketing (obsessed much? Yes!).   

My friend’s mom refers to Macklemore as “my guy Macklemore” as in, “Did you hear my guy Macklemore is going to be on SNL on March 2nd?!” and “I can’t talk right now, my guy Macklemore is on Ellen!”  The truth is a lot of us Seattleites feel that way about him too.  He’s “our guy”, our “dood” so to speak.  We’ve been rocking tracks like I Said Hey and White Privilege and Ego and even My Penis Song for years now, and so it’s not surprising that some fans have become slightly possessive of his music and the message his brand carries.  

I, personally, have never understood the whole “sell out” label.  It seems to get pinned in one way or another to pretty much every single artist who becomes successful in any way. The first thing we need to understand about Macklemore is that he never set out to just be a local artist or “underground rapper” in fact he hates the term:


Attending $5 shows with 50 people at venues like the Wild Buffalo in the beginning and listening to his earlier albums made me feel like I was a part of something special, a treasure that had yet to be discovered by the rest of the world.  I became a Macklemore fan-for-life, accepting that he may never make it big beyond the Northwest, accepting that his message may only resonate with a small portion of the population, but a portion I was proud to be a part of.  I, like a lot of his fans, accepted I would support him, even if no one else ever caught on. 

I honestly never thought this day would come.  That he’d ever actually get big enough to have an opportunity to be labeled a “sell out” (how exciting!). 

The Controversy: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis appeared in a promo for the 2013 NBA All-Star game featuring an edited version of Wings  

When I first saw the 2013 NBA All-Star game promo with Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, honestly, I laughed.  I laughed because it must’ve been an interesting task (to say the least) for whoever had to edit Wings so no mention of anti-Nike consumerism was included. I wasn’t offended by the edits or outraged by the new arrangement or rushing to my computer to write “sell out” in the comments sections of his YouTube videos, however I wasn’t surprised that some fans were. 


Sheesh, so much “disappointment” going around.  

While I want to rush to defend the choice Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made to be in this promo, while I could go into what I think Wings means, and how I think the song is both an examination of consumerism in our generation, specifically consumerism around Nike shoes, as well as an ode to sports, specifically basketball and Michael Jordan… I think what’s more interesting is looking at how social media marketing is shaped by fans (customers) and how artists can and should use their social media marketing channels to respond to perceived controversies from fans. 

Social Media Marketing makes the Fans your Marketers 

The best part of and biggest problem with social media marketing is that your customers become your marketers.  And here’s a little secret about marketers: all marketers have opinions about what the most important aspects of a product are, and those opinions aren’t always in sync with one another. This is really where the controversy comes in, as most of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s marketers are marketers they earned through social media.  

The difference between marketers you hire and marketers you earn is that the marketers you earn can and do whatever they like to either promote or demote your product (the marketers you hire can do the same, however with a contract you can hold them legally accountable), you give up all marketing control when you give that marketing power to your customers. 

Giving Up Control Doesn’t Mean Giving Up the Message 

A big concern a lot of businesses have about using social media is that it requires giving up a certain degree of control over the message around their product.  “They could say bad things about us,” is the usual reason given for not participating in social media marketing.  Now no one wants people to say bad things about their business or their product; however, in order to sell your products you need customers talking about you if not online, hopefully they’re talking about you in private. 

Social media is unique because it provides a space in which you can actually see what fans/customers are saying about you, as well as participate in those conversations and help shape them to be positive ones.  Remember, giving up complete control doesn’t mean giving up your message or your brand.  

I started writing this blog post yesterday morning before Macklemore posted his response on his blog. I wrote:

Something I am surprised I haven’t seen from Macklemore yet is a blog post or Facebook message in which he explains the decision they made to be in that promo.  Obviously artists can’t be concerned with every individual fan whose loyalties may be waning, but when you make a move that gets a significant amount of reaction from fans; it is worth addressing that reaction with your fans/customers directly.  

Reaching out and addressing these controversies with your customers via social media not only shows them that you care about what they have to say, but using reactions from your customers can help you make better business decisions in the future (for example: if Netflix had listened to customers, maybe they wouldn’t have lost a million of them by changing their services). 

I don’t know how Macklemore or Ryan Lewis feel about the promo, if they’re proud of it or regret it; all I know is that addressing your customers’ concerns sooner rather than later is always the best way to come out on top.  

As soon as I got home last night I saw that Macklemore had posted a link on his Facebook page to his blog and a piece titled, “Wings, The NBA All-Star Game, & Selling Out”, in it he writes: 

Over the past couple days, I’ve read numerous tweets and a couple articles about the use of our song “Wings” as the intro for the 2013 NBA All Star Game.  While most people were congratulatory over the television appearance, it seemed like there were a fair amount of people that were quick to throw out the good, old-fashioned “sellout” statement.  The bigger our profile gets, the more I’m getting use to the phrase and the “purists” who toss it around so liberally.  But I figured I should probably break it down from my perspective to let you know where I stand.
In my stripped down definition, selling out is compromising your artistic integrity for money/fame.  In my heart I can tell you that my personal artistic integrity remained completely intact over the weekend.  TNT used our song.  They’re still my words….If you take away the consumerism cautionary core of Wings, a story still remains.  And that story is one that I’m still proud of, and it’s dope to me that it’s relatable enough for TNT to want to use it.
If there was any trace of irony by Wings being one of the official songs of the 2013 All Star Game, that’s great.  That means that we won.  The song about consumerism was embraced on a national level, and played to the entire country of sports fans that tuned in.  More people download the song, got the truth (the actual/full song) and we converted strangers that didn’t know who we were into fans. If that’s selling out to you, word.  But to me that’s nothing but an all around win.


The response on Facebook was immediate; in less than 24 hours that status update has gotten 4,280 likes 280 shares and 310 comments.  And when you start digging into the comments you can see just how important a statement like this was to his fans and customers:

sell out pic response 2 (360x48)

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The Social Media Marketing Lessons Learned: 

Whether they’re fans or customers or both, responding to even perceived controversies quickly and directly is the best way to make sure you don’t lose business.  Big businesses could learn a lot from how Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have used social media marketing to promote their music as well as retain their customer base.  

Lesson 1: Don’t be afraid of marketing with social media

Lesson 2: Controversies are really opportunities to communicate

Lesson 3: Not every customer is a customer for life, but your customers are your customers because they feel a connection in some way or another with your product; try to validate that connection when you can (use social media as the channel to do so).

And to the fans that remain jaded, I offer you this line from one of my favorite Macklemore songs titled Contradiction: “Consumption, contradiction, I’m conflicted with, being a hypocrite, and through these songs you can witness it, the difference is I admit this sh*t, ‘cause I’m just like you, walking a fine line between saying it, and living it”. 

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Zoe Huden

Author Zoe Huden

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