Starburst Branches Out

Inks tour sponsorship with singer-songwriter

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Upstart female singer-songwriter Michelle Branch recently inked a deal with Masterfoods USA's Starburst brand to be the presenting sponsor of the domestic leg of her new tour promoting her recent Maverick Records' release "Hotel Paper." And it was her shapely backside that was the catalyst of the deal.

The tour sponsorship, which includes sampling and signage for the confectionery brand, evolved out of a successful promotion where consumers took part in a contest to guess the identity of the mystery celebrity wearing a pair of jeans with a pack of Starburst sticking out of the back pocket.

"We thought it would be great for Michelle because she and Starburst share the same young adult, older teenager target audience," said Constance Schwartz, VP-strategic marketing for The Firm, Branch's Beverly Hills-based management company.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% It was the songstress's impromptu endorsement of the brand on "Access Hollywood" that sparked the idea for The Firm to go back to the Hackettstown, N.J.-based Masterfoods to explore the idea of expanding the relationship with a tour sponsorship.

"We went for the right situation as opposed to just chasing the check," said Jeff Rabhan, Branch's manager at The Firm. "And over the span of the contest and now the tour, we'll get a lot more identification with the brand than we would have if we had hopped in bed with another candy manufacturer for just the tour."

Branch is no stranger to corporate America having already done deals with Unilever's Thermasilk and Cingular Wireless. She has yet to appear in any TV ads for brand marketers, but she and her team at The Firm are open to the possibility, realizing full well what a major national TV campaign can do for an artist's record sales.

"We're not Pepsi; we don't have to necessarily go the celebrity route in our ads to insert ourselves in consumers' lives," said Jeffrey Moran, Masterfoods spokesman, who went on to say that the company would be open to a "celebrity formula" for Starburst if the right opportunity comes along. "A celebrity formula hasn't necessarily presented itself in a way so far where it wouldn't overshadow the brand essence that we're trying to parlay."

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