Wale at "A Night of Legend" event for Original Penguin

Original Penguin, like many other brands, is trying to figure out how to speak to the Millennial consumer in an authentic way. According to Kristin Dicunzolo, the vice president of marketing and communications at Original Penguin, working with Genius as its only media outlet for the entire season was a way to do that.

“In the past we’ve used a variety of media partners, but we wanted to go all in with Genius to have 100 percent of the shared voice,” said Dicunzolo, who added that it was important for the brand to work with a platform outside of the fashion space.

Genius, which was founded in 2009, primarily focused on publishing lyrics to rap songs — it was originally called Rap Genius. The platform has since expanded its content — lyrics, news, videos, artist interviews, etc. — to cover all music genres.

In 2016 Genius signed a deal with Spotify, the music streaming service, to integrate annotated lyrics into the music playback experience. Brands are beginning to play with selling merchandise on these platforms. Pat McGrath recently launched a line of beauty products with pop star Maggie Lindemann over Spotify.

“Music resonates with the Millennial customer and we want to make sure we are speaking to the customer at their interest points,” said Dicunzolo.

The campaign involved the more traditional display ads on Genius’ homepage. Ji Krinsky, the vice president of brand partnerships at Genius, said a newly created look book unit has been garnering top click-through rates.

But the campaign also included some less conventional assets. Genius, which has amassed 85 million uniques globally, tasked Wale with making a song called “Good to Great,” and created content around the production of the song. They put on an experiential event at the Genius headquarters in Brooklyn, where Wale debuted the song, and Original Penguin set up a pop-up where customers could buy T-shirts made in collaboration with artist Jim “T.A.Z.” Evans.

Original Penguin Genius Wale

Original Penguin pop-up at Genius event with artist Jim “T.A.Z.” Evans. 

“It was meant to be more of Original Penguin inserting itself in music than ‘here’s an ad, click on it, and buy something,'” said Krinsky.

Executives at Genius started the brand partnership team a year ago. They’ve worked with companies including Nike, Showtime and BET.

Brendan Frederick, Genius’ chief content officer, said because the site is focused on music knowledge, brands have been drawn to how much users engage with the site and Genius is beginning to produce more off-line activations that align with the website’s mission. This past August, Adidas Originals and Atari sponsored a music festival called IQ/BBQ, that featured performances from Pusha T, who has a line with Adidas; Dej Loaf and more along with an interactive music trivia contest.

When asked if he’s worried about an influx of sponsored content as Genius builds up its brand partnership team, and how readers will react to that, Frederick said he doesn’t foresee a problem.

“We are putting out so much content every day that I’m not concerned about that at this point. I don’t think we are at critical mass,” said Frederick. “Each piece of branded content is endemic to our core ethos. It feels like the type of thing we would be producing, so I welcome that saturation as long as we can stay true to our identity.”