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Marketers Using Song Hooks to Snag Tweens

Ashley Tisdale's Deodorant Promos for Unilever Show Rules Have Changed

By Published on .

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- Late last January, "High School Musical" ingenue Ashley Tisdale entered a Los Angeles music studio to lay down four new tracks. The odd thing: When Ms. Tisdale opened her mouth to sing, she wasn't recording a follow-up to "Headstrong," her album that's sold nearly a half million copies worldwide; she was actually selling deodorant.
'High School Musical's' Ashley Tisdale is a Degree Girl.
'High School Musical's' Ashley Tisdale is a Degree Girl.

Starting this June, those new tracks -- covers of '80s bubble-gum pop such as Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" and Belinda Carlisle's "Heaven Is a Place on Earth" -- will become exclusively available via Unilever's Degree Girl brand deodorant website. Each of the four deodorant scents will carry a pass code for a free song download.

Marketers change their tune
Ms. Tisdale's new arrangement with Unilever reveals much about the oddly and increasingly intertwined futures of the personal-hygiene business, tween stars and the record industry, as well as the changing role that media-buying companies play in telling a brand's story.

"We know that with both Gen X and Gen Y consumers, music is their No. 1 passion point," said Brad Gelfond, VP-brand partnerships and asset development at Warner Bros. Records. "But we also know that they don't always want to buy it."

Mr. Gelfond noted that one of Warner Bros.' biggest acts, Linkin Park, had recently offered subscription webisodes of behind-the-scenes footage of the band on tour and in the studio. While the free previews of the Linkin Park material on social-networking sites such as MySpace and YouTube racked up views in the tens of millions, paid downloads garnered only a tiny fraction of that amount.

Said Mr. Gelfond: "People want content to be free. With that in mind, we still need to monetize it. So, partnering with a brand is an interesting way to do that."

New avenues for growth
Meanwhile, for companies in the $10 billion-a-year business of keeping the Western world free of body odor, sales of deodorant among adults have plateaued. According to a March report by Global Industry Analysts, deodorant sales in the U.S. and Western Europe are "'mature,' and have reached 'saturation,' so future growth will be driven by gender-specific formulations, coupled with distinct packaging and enhanced advertising."

But the fickle nature of tweens and the fractured media landscape they run through requires a different approach.

"In this new world, ad agencies do not own the creative relationship with the client anymore," said David Lang, president of Mindshare Entertainment, North America. "They own the advertising relationship, but these sort of branded-entertainment initiatives are a different skill set: It's about using different platforms and a different type of storytelling."

From now through May 26, fans of Ms. Tisdale's can visit DegreeGirl.com to catch up on her latest news through a weekly video blog; share what Unilever refers to as "OMG!" moments via video; or post their stories to an online blog to enter a contest to meet Ms. Tisdale and attend an exclusive concert. Come June, the free downloads and an exclusive ringtone become available.

The success of the Disney franchise she helped popularize is nothing short of astonishing: "High School Musical 2" grabbed 17.3 million viewers in the U.S., making it one of the highest-rated basic-cable broadcasts in U.S. history; another 17.5 million viewers watched in Asia.

Clean kids
The appeal of the "HSM" stars, of course, isn't just that they're plugged in to tweens. Unlike many in Hollywood's former teen-star firmament who are in rehab, court, jail or all three, the new Disney set are -- so far, at least -- as squeaky clean as the hygiene category: Ms. Tisdale has publicly vowed that she doesn't drink, and with most 12- to 14-year-olds relying on parents to pay for their personal-care products, a mom-friendly spokesmodel doesn't hurt, either.

Stan Rogow, the manager for "HSM" alum Corbin Bleu (who began endorsing the Hasbro Tooth Tunes Musical Toothbrush), said: "It's a nice to reach out to the audience and get them to do something that's good for them. And if it gets kids to keep a brush in their mouth for a couple extra minutes, why not? If you'll pardon the pun, it's good, clean fun."
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