Canva’s cringey rap battle was actually a marketing win

You thought the hottest rap battle of the summer was between Kendrick Lamar and Drake. You were wrong. It’s between Canva and an enterprise CIO.

At its Canva Create event last week, Canva unveiled its new enterprise offerings. But few people would be talking about that if not for an unexpected rap battle that took place forty-five minutes into the presentation.

Roger Coles, a graphic design content creator, walks on stage, framed by a crew of dancers. As one dancer backflips across the stage, Coles struts forward to begin his rap, which is poised as a recap of everything we learned at the presentation – but wait! A challenger approaches!

“Hold up sir!” says a woman who walks out from the crowd, mic in hand, looking a bit more business-like than everyone else in her navy suit. She’s playing a concerned CIO of a large enterprise company, who doubts that Canva can follow through on its security offerings.

“Logs, SCIM, SSO? Can you really tell me that there’s very much control?” she raps, as a large screen behind her animates her every word.

Coles spits back, “You can even manage automated licensing, compliance, there’s privacy.”

“I can see, but is it likely for you to integrate all of our systems easily?”

“Actually, matter of fact, you see, we can integrate ‘em all even Slack, believe!”

By now, the CIO has abandoned her role as a corporate curmudgeon, smiling and dancing in sync with Coles. Soon, they join together for the chorus: “You’ve opened up my eyes/with Canva Enterprise.”

Of course, people on social media immediately clowned on the rap. What rap performance has ever used terms like SSO and API?

“This is the most cringe s–t I have ever seen in my entire career,” said Alex Cohen, a startup founder, in an X post with nearly 9 million views.

Some compared it to the satirical HBO show “Silicon Valley,” or the “L to the OG” song from “Succession.”

But for Canva, that was kind of the point. Enterprise software is inherently boring, so why not spice it up?

“We decided to be ourselves, do something different, and not take ourselves too seriously,” Canva founder and COO Cliff Obrecht wrote on LinkedIn. “Haters gonna hate.”

A Canva spokesperson told TechCrunch that more than 50 million people saw the rap battle within 48 hours, leading to a 2,500% increase in people talking about Canva Enterprise on social media.

For better or for worse, we must reckon with the fact that maybe tech companies keep leaning into cringe because it’s effective.

“A rap battle about enterprise security might not be for everyone, but for an enterprise software launch, it certainly got everyone talking,” the spokesperson told TechCrunch.

Perhaps people reacted so strongly against the Canva enterprise rap because we’ve seen so inundated with corporate cringe over the years.

Heather Morgan, who – along with her husband – pled guilty to laundering over $4 billion in Bitcoin from the Bitfinex exchange, moonlighted as a rapper named “Razzlekhan.” Last year at Paris Blockchain week, billionaire venture capitalist Tim Draper sang a song about Bitcoin, in which he rhymed “Satoshi Nakamoto” with “a token perfecto.” Mark Zuckerberg’s sister, Randi Zuckerberg, starred in a music video about crypto, which spins the Twisted Sister song “We’re Not Gonna Take It” into the crypto meme, “We’re All Gonna Make It.” At one point, she declares, “Carpe your crypto diem.”

It’s incredible that these people choose to do this so publicly, but doing it in private is even weirder. We learned a lot about Facebook from the Frances Haugen whistleblower leaks, but amid the incriminating documents about children’s safety, we discovered something damning in a different way: an internal corporate benefits song. If you’ve never seen anyone rap about family planning and fertility benefits, now you have.

The Facebook benefits video is a time capsule. The company wasn’t called Meta yet, and the video transitions from Zoom, to in-person (everyone is wearing a mask except whoever is singing), to virtual reality.

“Now let’s move that thing and jump into the metaverse!” one performer sings, really drawing out that last note on “-verse.” As he puts on his Quest 2 headset, the camera pans to show a “Thank you essential workers!” sign in the background. (And once they do jump into the metaverse, of course, the avatars do not have legs.)

This is only a recent history of the most cringey musical performances from the tech world. But maybe we expected something different from Canva because it isn’t your typical Silicon Valley company.

The Silicon Valley strategy has been to prioritize growth over profit, but as a company born in the Australian tech ecosystem, Canva became profitable before raising venture capital. And yes, counterintuitively, that’s rare.

“We grew up in Perth, Western Australia, which is the most isolated city in the world,” Obrecht told TechCrunch a few years back. “We didn’t know what venture capital was.”

Canva may not have known what venture capital was when it was founded in 2012, but it’s assimilated into the tech bubble enough to embrace corporate cringe.

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