Darryl Cobbin Combines Rap and Boost Mobile Phone Technology for a Winning Strategy

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Who: Darryl Cobbin, Vice President, Marketing, Nextel Communications' Boost Mobile

Credentials: Repositioned the Sprite brand as Generation X's thirst quencher -- for two years the
Defending his use of the controversial rapper Ludacris, Mr. Cobbin cited 'an artist's right to free speech and creative expression.' Pictured here in an ad, Ludacris talks on his Boost Mobile phone.

fastest-growing soft drink -- as vice president and business manager, Sprite brand group, Coca-Cola USA.

Challenge: Boost Boost into a sustainable youth-targeted brand more profitable per subscriber than parent Nextel.

Target: Youth 14-24 who are street savvy, irreverent, who live large yet hunger for the next level in their lives.

M&V Play: Mr. Cobbin launched Boost's national rollout with three rappers, each from a different U.S. region, creating a song using the prepaid service's push-to-talk feature.

What he learned working at Coke

"By the skill of marketing, you can build a brand to become not just a want but a need." He also learned that Coke's brand transcended the category to impact pop culture.

How does Boost escape the commodity conundrum?

"By making push-to-talk be perceived as the audible version off Instant Messaging and a fashion item. It's no longer about a phone in your pocket, it's about a phone you place on the table."

Why do this deal?

"It's my belief quite a bit of the marketing of the wireless industry has been functionally based, with quality of net coverage, price of plan or those in network. This deal represented an opportunity to explore an emotional benefit relevant to youth. In our attempt to be relevant to youth and build a differentiated brand among youth, we believe entertainment is the gateway to helping young people bond with the Boost brand."

What is your hope for the songs created by the rappers?

"Rather than the media buy being the primary vehicle
Defending his use of the controversial rapper Ludacris, Mr. Cobbin cited 'an artist's right to free speech and creative expression.' Pictured here in an ad, Ludacris talks on his Boost Mobile phone.

used to influence young people to adopt the brand, we hope that, because of the quality of the music and integrity of the message, youth will talk to one another about the authenticity and credibility of Boost Mobile advertising."

What about Ludacris, shunned by Pepsi after conservative commentator Bill O'Reilly's complaints?

"Point one: We emphatically and enthusiastically support an artist's right to free speech and creative expression. Point number two: We didn't just look at Ludacris the entertainer, we looked at Ludacris as a person who also contributes to the community in which he lives. And he does this through the Ludacris Foundation. You may have noticed Denzel Washington won an Oscar for a role he played in Training Day. It was a form of entertainment. It does not represent all of what Denzel Washington is. What Ludacris does is also a form of entertainment. It also does not represent what Ludacris is. And my final point: This ad is not about any one particular artist; this is about the connectivity of our phones, our push-to-talk feature, and unity.

How will you measure success in this space?

"The basic way is we will be keeping an keen eye on our subscriber base and the impact this had on those under he age of 24 who become Boost subscribers. The second will be through brand tracking, where we will be measuring the relevancy of the Boost brand, and the third -- and this measure is important to us -- the amount of word of mouth that this campaign generates, which will be measured through a brand-tracking study."

What keeps you awake at night?

"Two things, one category related and the second brand related. In the category, there is an opportunity to build brands that command a premium price. My concern is those in the industry who use price as their primary marketing vehicle could begin to take the profitability out of the industry. On the brand side, I have a concern and then I have a comfort. The concern is that our competitors may decide to follow us down the branded entertainment pathway. My comfort is that because the Boost brand is inextricably connected to our own positioning that those that follow could potentially be helping us rather than hurting us."

Who is your best friend in the business?

"As a company, our best friend is Nextel because of innovation in push-to-talk technology; their network and the support of senior management. Personally, my biggest mentor is Clarence Avant, the godfather of black music and formerly the chairman of Motown Records. He has spent the last six years mentoring me."

Lesson learned?

"Give to others. Put people in position to do their best work. Give them clear direction. Hold them accountable. And then get out of the way."

What phone do you carry?

Boost 860 Woody. [Not yet on the market.]