Drake and the Million Dollar Pop

“We’re in a weird time. Life is almost this ongoing forum. People can get so lost in these words displayed on the screen.”

Those words are spoken by Canadian rapper Drake as part of the “Drake – Obey Your Thirst” video series, a creative endeavor of agency Cornerstone and Fader magazine. The two brands – which have always operated under the same ownership – are now publicly working together as one unit.

The Drake videos are one example of the kind of storytelling they are creating – real, compelling and long-form, aimed directly at their audience on the channels most likely to engage.

“We’re talking about two different cultures with their own staffs, IP, client relationships–everything,” said Trevor Eld, chief creative officer of the agency, in an interview with KC Ifeanyi in Fast Company. “What excited me was to start to integrate those into one with a creative team being at the core, really the connective tissue between all of these different teams that have been kept pretty siloed from each other.”

“During the most tumultuous times for both print/digital media and the advertising industry, Fader and Cornerstone have actually managed to thrive in both areas,” explains Ifeanyi, who reports that this year is the most profitable to date for both Fader and Cornerstone.

It’s an interesting place in which they find themselves; rather than reporting on culture, they are unabashedly attempting to influence it.

Cornerstone founder Rob Stone and co-CEO Jon Cohen both have deep roots in hip-hop/R&B and indie rock. Their respective backgrounds, Ifeanyi says, “have laid a solid foundation to develop culture through brand work for Nike, Coca-Cola, Sprite, Converse, and Levis; campaigns that have garnered Grammy and Emmy nominations; white-label partnerships with the likes of YouTube; events such as their festival within a festival Fader Fort at South by Southwest; and most recently this summer being one of Google’s first partners to help launch its virtual reality platform VR180.”

Their agency now is breaking down the idea of traditional advertising in a way that resonates with their audience. The corporate sponsorship – like the Drake videos which highlight Sprite’s sponsorship of his tour – is obvious. Yet it works because the audience knows it’s all entertainment, and they know the content they consume has to earn a living somehow.

What I like about this is that nobody’s trying to pull the wool over anyone’s ads – these long-form video creations are not posing as serious journalism but as long-form branded storytelling.

As Cohen notes, his company has always been about “bucking tradition.”

“When we started Fader, we printed on such a heavy paper stock that every traditional media person told us we were crazy and that we were going to be out of business the next year. But that was the reason that every great photographer wanted to work for us–that was the reason that artists started coveting being on our cover,” he continues.

Keep your eye on these guys; there will be lots of imitators to this style of advertising, but it’s going to take some real finesse to keep it real.