Did Rihanna Really Get $125K to Mention Ray-Ban?

The story about Ray-Ban paying pop diva Rihanna $125,000 to mention their sunglasses in her 2010 hit song “Cheers” has gone viral on Reddit, Twitter and Facebook. Since the music star doesn’t disclose information about product placement deals, there’s no way of knowing whether the rumor is grounded in fact. However, paid product placements in music lyrics and videos are a well-established industry and have increased sharply in recent years.

Rihanna and the $125,000 Product Placement Story

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Did Ray-Ban really pay Rihanna $125,000 to mention their product in a song? The image from the original article on glasses.com.

The tale that pop diva Rihanna paid $125,000 to mention Ray-Ban brand sunglasses in her 2010 hit “Cheers?” originated in an article on Glasses.com, an online eyewear retailer. The article doesn’t list its source, and neither Rihanna, her publicist, nor Ray-Ban’s management have ever confirmed the deal.

Rihanna’s song, “Cheers” is about having fun, drinking, and enjoying the weekend. The lyric in question is:

“Got my Ray-Bans on and I’m feeling hella cool tonight, yeah

Everybody’s vibing so don’t nobody start a fight, yeah-ah-ah-ah”

The song also mentions Jameson whiskey. The video of the song is below.

Product Placement in Music

Product placement in music is certainly a reality. Baseball legend Derek Jeter has admitted using a brand of cologne in his youth that was referenced in a song by Snoop Dogg. In that same song, the rapper mentions Oil of Olay and Johnson’s Baby Powder. Over the past 15 or 20 years, mentions of products in pop songs have increased dramatically. In fact, more than half of all product mentions in songs between 1960 and today happened in the past 15 years.

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Cee Lo and friends.

Pop star Cee Lo Green earned $20 million in 2011, but very little of that came from sales of his music. The bulk of Green’s income comes from other marketing and promotion efforts that the artist doesn’t describe in detail. Artist Chris Brown mentions Wrigley’s Gum in his song Forever, and also appeared in a commercial for the brand. It’s difficult to determine which product references are paid for and which aren’t because there’s no law that says paid product placements in song lyrics have to be disclosed. However, Robert Passikoff, president of a branding company called Brand Keys, has said that mentioning brands in music is the natural progression of “an ultra-capitalist marketing environment.”

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Product references in the lyrics of the top 30 songs for each year. Image source: meiea.org

The Journal of Management and Marketing Research estimates over $7 billion annually is spent on product placement in all its forms.

Lady Gaga and Product Placement

Spending on product placement in music videos has grown sharply in the past two decades, doubling since the year 2000. The Lady Gaga for her song “Telephone” has 220 million views on YouTube and has been called out for including nine product placements in as many minutes. The products referenced in the video include Virgin Mobile and Miracle Whip.

Another recent product placement in a music video is a paid inclusion of a Mini Cooper in the video for the song, “Billionaire,” by Travie McCoy.

Product Placement in Other Entertainment

Product placement is increasing in music, but also on television, in movies and even in video games. Annual spending on product placement in video games in 2010 was estimated at over $1 billion.

Some famous product placements in movies include the Wilson soccer ball in the Cast Away, Pepsi in Back to the Future, Reese’s Pieces in E.T. and Ray-Bans in Top Gun.

Below is the well known scene from Wayne’s World which ingeniously combines a spoof of product placement with actual product placement.

Does Rihanna Need $125,000 to Mention Ray-Ban?

One big question about the Rihanna story is: does Rihanna actually need to make $125,000 for putting the words “Ray-Ban” in a song? The 27 year old has sold more than 150 million records and is one of the best-selling musicians of all time. She’s estimated to have a net worth in excess of $140 million. That means the $125,000 she was supposedly paid to mention Ray-Bans in a song would be .08% of her total fortune. Put another way, imagine someone has $300,000 in the bank. .08% of that is $267. Would the world’s top-earning pop star risk being seen as a sell-out for such a comparatively small sum? Since neither Rihanna, her publicist, nor the Ray-Ban company have commented on the story, we may never know.