While the 17-year-old up-and-comer wrote the song "Gotta Move Faster," Intel did brief him on its Centrino brand essence. He includes a shout-out at the beginning of the song to Centrino, as well as a mention of Intel in the song, which the marketer had the opportunity to review once it was complete.
Not a giant jingle
"Strategically, we definitely didn't want it to be a big giant jingle. We gave him key message points, but he wrote the song. ... We asked him to tie it into his life," said Greg Fisher, manager-worldwide consumer integrated marketing for Intel. Valerie Moizel, executive creative director at the Woo Agency, which came up with the idea, added: "We feel like he [Mr. Kingston] struck a good balance."
For megamarketer Intel, the commission of "Gotta Move" is another toe in the water of branded entertainment, or as Mr. Fisher said, "We're looking at it as a test in getting more into branded entertainment."
Intel, which according to TNS Media Intelligence spent $98.2 million on U.S. measured media in 2006 and $54.2 million through September 2007, has frequently done product placement in TV and movies, but more recently began to experiment with branded-entertainment content, beginning in July when it commissioned director Christopher Guest to create online videos for its business products.
Tech analyst Rob Enderle of the Enderle Group was impressed with Intel's initiative in the space. "What a change a year has made. This was so beyond them a year ago. This is really elegant."
No initial PR, promotions
Part of the experiment with Mr. Kingston included forsaking any initial public relations or promotion and then carefully watching what happened with the online-only song and video. "We did that on purpose as an experiment to see how successful an organic viral video would be," an Intel spokesman said. In the first five days, the video and song quickly surpassed 1,000 downloads, which were offered for free, and went from two mentions to generating more than 175,000 articles on Google.
The song and the video were first posted only on MySpace and an Intel-created website, GottaMoveFaster.com, but has now moved to YouTube and will soon be added to music services such as iTunes, where users can download the song for 99 cents.
When the Woo Agency, which had worked with Intel on previous projects, came up with the idea, Mr. Kingston quickly emerged as the best choice because he was a prime example of a young technology uber-user. His career, after all, began on MySpace, where he first posted his songs and drew fans. He is also a download phenom, having sold more than 2 million ringtones and 2.2 million digital singles from his July-released debut album, said his manager, Jen McDaniels. And as a teenager, although maybe a not-so-typical one, Mr. Kingston uses his laptop, Blackberry, Sidekick, and social-networking and web connections constantly.
"It's totally him," Ms. McDaniels said. "That's how he communicates, with technology. ... The song basically tells people about what's happening in his life."
But would the song have happened on its own? Probably not. Still, that young people have an affinity and daily need for tech brands makes the song's genesis seem if not likely, then at least plausible.
"Kids look at technology differently," said Ellen Carney, an analyst with Forrester Research. "They've grown up with it. ... You have to apply it the same way they do."
Controversy with music plugs
While paid placements in TV and movies are old hat, this kind of integration in music is still growing -- and drawing controversy. McDonald's took heat a few years ago for offering payment for mentions of its Big Macs in hip-hop songs, and this summer singer Fergie was criticized for a $4 million deal with Candie's to appear in ads for the brand and drop mentions of it in her songs. So far, Intel and Mr. Kingston seem to have avoided backlash. Ms. McDaniels said initial fan and industry reaction has been overwhelmingly positive with few mentions of the Intel connection, even though it is transparent.
"Remember, this is the year when Diddy agreed to be the face of Ciroc, and Pharrell agreed to do music for Hennessey. This feels much more along the lines of collaboration with music talent vs. product placement," said Lucian James, president of Agenda.
Also the way that the two have gone about the collaboration -- openly discussing how it was created and Intel's subtle appearance in the song -– may help limit consumer suspicions.
"By doing it overtly, not trying to conceal it, the risk is relatively low of making fans angry," Mr. Enderle said. "They picked someone consistent with their brand image, trendy, done overtly, and they got to listen to it to make sure it's a good song. ... In all aspect it sounds like they did it right."
For sheer hit power, Intel's timing certainly couldn't be better. Coming off a successful self-titled debut album this summer, Mr. Kingston is also currently featured on British singer Natasha Bedingfield's top-10 hit "Love Like This." The two have been doing frequent appearances, including recently on the "Today Show" and a future date with "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve."
Intel is donating its profits from sales of the single and ringtones to the Intel Computer Clubhouse Network, an after-school technology-learning program that enables youth in underserved communities to acquire tools necessary for personal and professional success.