Stealth Content Marketing

“The Defiant Ones” is a Brilliant Documentary — and Brilliant Content Marketing

July 16, 2017

record needle

The best content marketing doesn’t even seem like marketing. It just seems like entertainment.

That’s why HBO’s “The Defiant Ones,” which premiered this week, is some of the best content marketing I’ve ever seen. This four-hour documentary tells the story of how two of the world’s most influential music producers — Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre — ultimately joined together on Death Row Records, then Aftermath Entertainment, and finally Beats Electronics, which the pair famously sold to Apple for $3.2 billion in 2014.

“The Defiant Ones” tracks both Iovine and Dre from their humble roots. The son of a Brooklyn longshoreman, Iovine found himself in the right place at the right time with the right set of skills (a passion for music and no fear of round-the-clock work). His big break came when he answered a call to come into work on Easter Sunday to find he would be engineering a recording for John Lennon.

Soon, Iovine found himself engineering Bruce Springsteen’s landmark album, “Born to Run.” He later produced Patti Smith’s “Easter” album and was the conduit for putting the Springsteen-penned “Because the Night” into Smith’s hands. As a producer and record company executive, Iovine was at the center of a staggering amount of important music, including Dire Straits’ “Making Movies,” U2’s “Rattle and Hum,” and career-making recordings by Gwen Stefani and Lady Gaga.

“The Defiant Ones” also tells the tale of Dr. Dre’s meteoric rise. Originally a deejay in Compton, Dre was a co-founder of N.W.A. and, along with Eazy-E and Ice Cube, an inventor of gangster rap. A brilliant producer, Dre had a knack for discovering and getting the most from emcee talent. His revered album, “The Chronic,” introduced Snoop Doggy Dogg. Dre discovered Eminem; produced some of Tupac Shakur’s best work, including “California Love”; and now works with the current king of hip-hop, Kendrick Lamar.    

After leaving N.W.A., Dre joined forced with Iovine at Interscope Records, which Iovine co-founded in 1990. Together, the pair built a music industry juggernaut, but the success was not without its sorrow. Suge Knight, who was reputedly affiliated with the Los Angeles gang the Bloods, became the co-founder of Death Row, an Interscope label. Knight brought a culture of lawlessness to the company and was with Shakur the night he was shot and killed in Las Vegas in 1996. Shakur was 25 years old.

“The Defiant Ones” tells how Dre and Iovine bounced back from this low point. It’s a compelling story, and it didn’t dawn on me that this documentary doubled as a piece of stealth content marketing until near the end of the film. There were clues along the way. Iovine produced U2’s 1988 concert documentary, “Rattle and Hum,” which was a piece of content marketing so good that fans would actually pay to see it in theater and to rent the cassette for their VCRs. Similarly, “Straight Outta Compton,” which was released in 2015 and told the tale of N.W.A.’s rise, is a remarkable piece of content marketing. In addition to being an entertaining film on its own, “Straight Outta Compton” helped sell some old gangster rap and provided a platform for Dre. to release “Compton,” an album of new material.

I began to suspect that “The Defiant Ones” had a content marketing aspect when I suddenly felt like searching for Beats headphones on Amazon. I became certain that this documentary was content marketing when the film’s last few minutes were dedicated to Iovine and Dre’s efforts to establish Apple Music, the company’s ambitious music streaming service.

The realization led me to feel briefly like Ralphie from “A Christmas Story,” when he excitedly receives his Little Orphan Annie decoder ring in the mail only to discover that the message he can now decipher is “Be sure to drink your Ovaltine.” Outraged, Ralphie grumbles, “A crummy commercial.”

But here’s the thing: “The Defiant Ones” is not a crummy commercial. It’s an amazing, entertaining, thrilling, four-hour long commercial. And I'm glad I watched. 

And, you know what, this blog post is kind of a commercial, too. If you’d like to learn more about how to create great content marketing, download The Sophisticated Marketer’s Guide to Content Marketing today. 

Photo: John Pemble