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The Bad Rap: Team Denver Homes' Fresh Prince Video Fallout

Some things are so blisteringly terrible that their failures speak for themselves.

That’s the case with the music-video ad from the real estate pros at Team Denver Homes, who up until last week were one of Kentwood Real Estate’s best selling agents.

Just weeks after a vitriolic mayoral race largely defined by the city’s housing crisis, these realtors posted an incredibly chirpy, thoughtless video in which they treat rapidly gentrifying Denver like their playground, riding scooters and doing the worm in front of trendy street art, spinning massive inflatable cell phones while ripping off the opening rap to the Will Smith sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

They grin. They brag. They gloat.

They claim they have turned the real-estate market upside down, as they stand in front of properties that other people have developed. “This market can be scary, but don’t be scared,” one agent raps. “You’re working with the best team in Den-Vair.”

They should be scared. Anti-gentrification activists in Denver immediately blew up, accusing the creators of the music video of all manner of crimes: Smug, rich white gloating? You bet. Cultural appropriation? Oh, yeah.
Failure to secure permits for filming? Seems like it: Even Little Man Ice Cream, which was used as a location, denounced the video, claiming that Team Denver Homes never had official permission to film there.

Little Man’s not the only one distancing itself from the best team in Denver. After the video blew up, Kentwood Real Estate did, too.

“In response to the Team Denver Homes video, Kentwood management was not involved and had no knowledge of it at the time the video was made and posted,” wrote Kentwood president and CEO Gretchen Rosenberg. “While we recognize they did not intend the video to be hurtful, we respect sensitivities surrounding it. As a brokerage, we have a 38-year record of being an inclusive, equitable, professional and empathetic culture. We respect the rights of all people and employees, we advocate for, sell and lease properties in every corner of the Metropolitan area, and we’re always mindful of our responsibility as an equal opportunity employer. At no time would we ever condone behavior that could be viewed as being insensitive or inappropriate.”

That response didn’t address another question: What about copyright violation? Did the publishers of the song grant the realtors the right to use the music and lyrical structure of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”?

Initially, a spokeswoman for Kentwood Real Estate and Team Denver Homes offered to find out whether the agents had cleared the use of that song with the publisher. Instead, she sent a note saying that Kentwood Real Estate had cut ties with Team Denver Homes.

CEO Rosenberg also responded with a non-answer to the question about copyright: “I cannot disclose private matters in regards to affiliation with independent contractors beyond confirming that the brokerage has disassociated from the Broker Associates affiliated with Team Denver Homes.”

Team Denver Homes, which has racked up awards for its social-media and marketing strategy, is far from a pioneer in cribbing rap to make real estate ads. There are the very white-looking agents with Santa Clarita Realtors, who ripped off Rick Ross with their song “Every Day I’m Hustlin’,” as well as the Smith Group in Newport Beach stealing Cali Swag District’s “Teach Me How to Dougie” to sell a $44.99 million mansion. Plenty of others have adopted this marketing strategy, too.

But do they understand how wrong that strategy is, particularly in Denver, a city with a long history of segregation and recent gentrification that has gutted communities of color?

From the looks of that video, the award-winning, luxury-home-peddling Team Denver Homes — headed up by Mor Zucker and Michele Ciardullo — doesn’t have a clue. And from the agents’ lackluster response to the tsunami of rage slamming into them, they still don’t understand why their video is offensive.

“Our video was intended to be whimsical and fun incorporating an iconic childhood show — we truly meant no harm to anyone and we sincerely apologize for those who were offended by it,” wrote Zucker and Ciardullo in a statement to the media. “We respect that some individuals interpreted the video in a way that was not intended and we are genuinely sorry for that. We have removed the video from all platforms and we will be more mindful of the marketing we create in the future.”

That statement is a lesson in apologizing without apologizing. First, the realtors establish intent: fun, whimsy and nostalgia. Second, they establish that they intended no harm. Third, they apologize — but not for their own tasteless display of pride in gentrification, cultural appropriation and trespassing. Instead, they apologize for those who were offended by the video, not to those who were offended by it. The agents are apologizing for other people’s outrage — not for the video itself.

A generous soul might suggest that the agents are just clumsy writers who don’t know “to” from “for.” But, oops...they do it again.

In a subsequent statement, they again apologized not for the offensive ad, but for the way individuals interpreted the video. “We respect that some individuals interpreted the video in a way that was not intended and we are genuinely sorry for that,” they wrote. As the sentence is written, “that” refers to the subject of the first clause: the way people interpreted it, not the despicable video itself.

“We have removed the video from all platforms, and we will be more mindful of the marketing we create in the future,” they added.

Taking them at their word — that these realtors are being mindful of the content they put out — we have to assume that this non-apology is just that: a statement written to look like they’re taking accountability, all while blaming the very people who raised concerns.

Careful move? Maybe. Good damage-control strategy? Not really. Responsible? Not at all.

Correction, July 23: An earlier version of this story reported the pros at Team Denver Homes had been Kentwood's best selling agents. The team was one of Kentwood's best selling agents.

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