How Much Is Drake's Endorsement Worth To Toronto?

Tuesday Jul 12th, 2016



"I got real ones livin' past Kennedy Road."

Drake, "Energy"

Only Drake can make Scarborough seem exotic, creating a mythology of Toronto's inner suburb through his lyrics and flow.

The rapper may have started from the bottom (in Forest Hill), but as his music fortunes rose he took his beloved city with him.

There is his three-day OVO Fest at the Molson Amphitheatre. His ambassadorship with the Raptors. There are constant local shout-outs in his lyrics, from the TTC to the terminals at Pearson airport to Yorkville's Hazelton Hotel. Then there is his branding of the city now known as "The 6," in reference to Toronto's area codes and its six preamalgamation cities.

As his hit album Views tops the Billboard charts for six straight weeks, the city's identity is getting an unprecedented boost. That meme-generating cover alone, featuring the rapper sitting astride the CN Tower, is the kind of publicity that Tourism Toronto couldn't afford to buy.

How much is Drake's endorsement worth to the city? It's hard to quantify. But that didn't stop us from trying. 

"I think the last personality that anyone would associate Toronto with is (the late) Toronto Mayor Rob Ford," says Gordon Hendren, president of Toronto market research firm Charlton Strategic Research Inc. "Drake has really changed that conversation. But the question to ask is, if you're going to replicate this, how would you do that and what would it cost?"

The Star asked researchers at ZenityOptimedia to crunch some numbers to see how much that boosterism is worth. They looked at Drake's cumulative YouTube views, his social media followers and his appearances in convenitional media, such as his recent Saturday Night Live hosting that was littered with references to his home city.

The grand total: A cool $3-billion.

"Drake's cool factor is not for sale and the minute it is, that value will drop," says Kristine Lyrette, president of ZenithOptimedia, a Toronto media buying agency. "Genuine and sincere intention is half the battle in gaining trust with the public."

Drake's 32.5 million Twitter and 23 million Instagram followers give him an enviable global reach. YouTube views on his videos are in the billions.

ZenithOptimedia calculates that to replicate those impressions where he mentions Toronto with a conventional advertising buy, it would cost roughly $300 million.

But because Drake's shout-outs to the city come from a point of authenticity, it resonates more with listeners who will not discount his endoresement. He is also an "A-list celebrity who is a huge influencer on other A-list celebrities who admire him," so that figure is multiplied by a factor of 10 by ad buyers to arrive at that number of $3-billion.

Not everyone was convinced that Drake would necessarily be a good thing for the city, starting from when he had his first official gig as an unpaid "global ambassador" for the basketball team. It seemed more like a desperate attempt at co-branding the Raptors with a hip-hop star to tap into the millenial audience. But it worked.

"When he was brought in I really questioned that decision," says Richard Powers, a sports marketing expert and associate professor at the Rotman School of Management. "My problem was that I'm still listening to the Rolling Stones. He's going for a different demographic and I didn't appreciate what an A-list celebrity he is."

The relationship, Powers points out, is symbiotic. As much as Drake promotes Toronto, he promotes himself. But it becomes a virtuous feedback loop.

"We knew there was a value to what he was doing, but we hadn't put a dollar figure on that, but I guess we've seen that the price of cool is priceless," says Toronto city councillor Michael Thompson, the chair of Toronto's economic development and culture committee, and also the co-chair of the city's music advisory council.

Thompson, who travels globally to promote Toronto to the world, says he has heard Drake's music in bars and hotels from China to India and Europe.

Drake's unabashed love of the city has been remarkably successful, especially in light of the rather lacklustre marketing campaigns launched by the city in the past.

"Toronto is still a young city, unlike cities such as Rome and Paris that have very defined personalities. Here there are still a lot of moving parts and our image is not static," says Gabor Forgacs, associate professor at the Ted Rogers School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. "So what Drake is doing is awesome really, because he is creating that identity for us on the global stage."

Drake, of course, didn't single-handedly put Toronto on the map. The city has been doing quite well by itself, quietly topping international surveys for quality of life including education, safety and health care. In 2015, it was ranked the best place in the world to live by The Economist magazine. The year before that, Vogue ranked Queen West as the second coolest district in the world next to Tokyo's Shimokitazawa.

"Over the years we've really developed a sense of self. The city has come of age because of its diversity and Drake is a great example of that," says Thompson. "Moreover, the way he has conducted himself and the way he represents himself has benefitted Toronto."

But as any marketer will tell you, cool is hard to define. It is the unicorn of the marketing world.

"What he has been doing is pretty awesome," says Zenith Optimedia's Lyrette. "Making Toronto go viral is really just impossible to replicate." But the definition of cool means this may not be sustainable, she warns.

"The reality is, he's been doing exceptionally well. But it's good to have perspective. Maybe if his last album flopped, then we wouldn't be having this conversation at all." 

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