Jul 10 2006

The Branding of Mimi

Billboard Magazine writes:

This is not lost on Carey or her manager, Benny Medina of Handprint Entertainment, who are both actively leveraging Carey's brand, which is based around her artistry and music.

In a career that spans 16 years, Carey has steered clear of brand marketing initiatives—until this year, that is. In the past six months alone, she has partnered with Intel (a TV spot), Elizabeth Arden (a fragrance line due next spring), Pepsi (a multiplatform campaign featuring exclusive content) and Claire's (where her jewelry and accessories line, Glamorized, is sold).

On the near horizon is an inexpensive apparel line for dogs, to be sold exclusively at Claire's. Further off in the distance is a line of high-end, luxury women's watches. Consider it the two sides of Carey: one focused on her younger fans, the other focused on her own lifestyle.

Early in her career, following such No. 1 hits as "Vision of Love" and "Someday," Carey says she was approached by a company to appear in one of its commercials. "But the creative for the campaign was too goofy," she says with a laugh. "It centered on my voice and a breaking glass. It just wasn't me. It wasn't how I wanted to portray myself.

"Intel was my first brand partner," Carey says. "The fact that the company deals in high-level technology, which music is a part of, appealed to me." Carey also appreciated that the 30-second TV spot for the Intel Centrino mobile technology was not "hugely exploitive," but rather "creatively inspiring."

Created by McCann-Erickson New York, the ad, which debuted in February, featured Carey and the sounds of "Mine Again," a classic-sounding R&B song featured on "Emancipation." Carey acknowledges that for this deal to work it was key that a nonsingle, album track be used. "It exposed the song as well as the album to more people."

The ad was a preview to a larger, worldwide Centrino Duo campaign—encompassing print, Internet, TV and in-store platforms—that commenced in March and features Carey and other celebrities.

For Medina, such a campaign was the ideal way for Carey to be introduced to brand marketers. "A package like this one made perfect sense," he says. "It's a multiplatform, multi-initiative concept that was strategically planned. It hits many eyeballs."

The same is true of the Pepsi Cool Tones & Motorola Phones campaign. For this summer-long sweepstakes, Carey wrote and produced 20 original voice and music tones. During this promotion, which also spotlights Mary J. Blige, the All-American Rejects, producer Scott Storch and others, Pepsi could give away more than 260 million ringtones. (One in three codes found under the caps of approximately 800 million Pepsi products will be good for a ringtone at pepsismash.com.)

Carey kicked off the promotion with a national TV ad in May. The spot, helmed by BBDO New York, features one of Carey's new ringtones, "Time of Your Life."

According to Pepsi VP of colas Russell Weiner, by combining forces with Carey and the use of unique ringtones Pepsi was able to crack the teen market in an interesting way.

Since the promotion's May 15 launch, unique site visits have doubled. "We've received several million entries," he notes.

Thousands of consumers have downloaded Carey's ringtones, with the majority opting for "Time of Your Life." Pepsi executives believe this is clear evidence that the TV commercial has helped raise awareness for the promotion.

The beverage company is hosting a one-off Pepsi Smash concert July 29 at the Kodak Theater in Los Angeles. Carey enthusiasts can win tickets to the show via radio (KIIS) and retail (7-11 stores) promotions.


Medina, who has overseen Carey's career since 2004, views his client's current business dealings as an ongoing development of her talent and vision—coupled with the ability and willingness to take chances and execute things on her own.

Consider this: After the flop that was "Glitter," Carey will star in "Tennessee," an indie film from producer Lee Daniels ("Monster's Ball").

"With Mariah, it all trickles down from the top," he explains. "And she is at the top at this point in her career."

The six-times platinum "The Emancipation of Mimi" garnered three Grammy Awards earlier this year and recently celebrated its one-year anniversary on The Billboard 200. In this issue, it sits at No. 120 on the tally.

The album includes the singer/songwriter's 16th and 17th No. 1 singles, "We Belong Together" and "Don't Forget About Us," respectively. With "Don't Forget About Us," Carey tied Elvis Presley for the most No. 1s on The Billboard Hot 100. As an active recording artist, she now has the potential to pass the Beatles' record high of 20 Hot 100 chart-toppers.

The biggest-selling album of 2005, "Mimi" has sold nearly 10 million albums worldwide, according to Island Records. This brings Carey's total career sales to 160 million units worldwide.

Tour promoter Live Nation has the luxury of not only aligning with a huge album, but also two decades of hits to promote. But historically, Carey's touring numbers have not been in the league of her success at retail.

Producers vow her North American tour, which commences Aug. 5, will be different. "Mariah Carey put out a career-defining album a year ago—we're about to embark on the defining tour for her," says Brad Wavra, VP at Live Nation and point person for the tour. "This will be the biggest tour she has ever undertaken and the largest audience she's ever played to."

Faisel Durrani, president of marketing for Live Nation, has orchestrated a massive national marketing and public-relations platform that has kept Carey in the public eye. While national promotions aren't exactly unique, what is unique here is Carey's commitment to the campaign.

"She's been involved in everything, from daily phone calls to working with us in creating the radio and television spots and being very hands-on with the print campaigns," Durrani says. "She's very focused about her brand and the message she wants to get out there."

A huge promotional blitz has led to Carey hyping the tour in USA Today and on several TV shows, including "Today," "Live With Regis and Kelly," MTV's "TRL," BET's "106 & Park" and "The Tonight Show With Jay Leno" and "Jimmy Kimmel Live."

"Mariah has gone out and really done the work," Wavra says. "She has put in a tremendous amount of personal time. This is the difference between a successful tour and a tour that's mediocre."

Wavra says the level of cooperation between label and promoter has been high. "Benny Medina has orchestrated a great cooperative effort between the promoter and the record company on this project," he says. "Mariah delivered them a great record, IDJ marketed and branded that record and helped bring it into the public's homes."

Label and promoter are sharing data on radio buys and promotions, "and we're working with the label's sales department to create retail promotions with their retail partners," Wavra says.

Carey's broad appeal presents a challenge and an opportunity. "She's a unique artist in that she means as much at the top 40 format as she does at the urban, rhythmic and hot AC formats," Durrani explains. "Normally, when we take a tour out we're hitting primarily one format and there's usually a secondary format that we're trying to hit. In Mariah's case, there are really five formats we hit simultaneously."

An unpredictable U.S. tour market and a red-hot Canadian market led to some shuffling of the route, with three U.S. shows pulled and four more dates added, including three in Canada. Live Nation calls this action more a reaction to the heat north of the border than softness in the United States.

"She sold out Toronto, she sold out Vancouver, she did over 10,000 tickets in Montreal, and she did well in Edmonton. We thought, 'Why not go into Winnipeg and Calgary and add another show in Toronto?' " Wavra says. "The Canadian market is very hot now, and the exchange rate makes it very affordable to go up there and not feel like we're playing for short money."

Wavra is confident that the tour will wind up as one of the year's most successful. "I'm going to say that we'll be doing 80%-100% business across 32 major arena dates on this tour," he says.

"The results are going to be there at the box office and onstage," Wavra continues. "It's the work ethic of the artist in realizing that to make a tour successful in this day and age you can't sit back and wait for it to happen. You've got to engage, and she has engaged with enthusiasm and vigor."

Carey's new taste for branding also plays a role with the tour—Gillette Venus is a trek sponsor. Named the official 2006 Celebrity Legs of a Goddess in May, Carey will lead the nationwide search for the woman with the most beautiful legs in the United States.

Legs of a Goddess contests will be held at five stops along the route: Miami (American Airlines Arena, Aug. 5), Atlanta (Philips Arena, Aug. 9), Philadelphia (Wachovia Center, Aug. 11), Boston (TD Bank North Garden, Aug. 21) and New York (Madison Square Garden, Aug. 23).

Whereas Carey once shunned branding opportunities, today the challenge is careful management of ongoing campaigns. "You don't want a clutter of unmanageable campaigns going on at the same time," Medina says.

Carey's exclusive licensing agreement with beauty products company Elizabeth Arden includes development, marketing and distribution of her own prestige line of fragrances. Carey's first fragrance is due next spring; its name will be announced early next year. Price points will be in the - range.

It was Carey's overall brand that resonated with execs at Elizabeth Arden, which also has fragrance lines from Elizabeth Taylor and Britney Spears. "Mariah is a remarkably dynamic and successful artist around the world," Elizabeth Arden executive VP of global marketing Ron Rolleston says. "She's a genuine star, larger than life and incredibly passionate. We like that passion."

And it doesn't hurt that she has a significant fan base worldwide that reaches across all age and ethnic groups, Rolleston adds.

When working with a celebrity, Rolleston says it's important to make the fragrance autobiographical. "Mariah has genuine opinions about what she likes. She provides leadership when it comes to what she wants."

Carey, who has taken an active role in the creation of her first fragrance, likens the process to writing and producing songs. Fragrances have top, bottom and middle notes, she says. "For me, this is where music and fragrance come together. I guess you could say we belong together." ••••
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