LL Cool J adds Coke to long roster of media, marketing activities

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"In the house" isn't the only place LL Cool J will be showing up this fall.

Coca-Cola Co. today breaks the first of two commercials starring the rapper/actor, christening for him an intense period of media and marketing activities that leverage a well-honed image of hipness and wholesomeness.

"The future is now for LL," said a Coca-Cola spokeswoman. "Why he's appropriate for us has to do with his longevity ... and because he has always presented himself as a wholesome and very authentic individual. Those attributes can be said of Coke Classic as well."

Beyond commercial endorsements--his agent said he's negotiating deals with McDonald's Corp. and MCI Communications Corp.--and TV stardom, LL Cool J has an autobiography, a new album and a shoe line hitting the market.

ENTERING HIS PRIME

As a rapper, LL Cool J has been a popular talent since his debut in 1985; but as a brand of pop entertainment, he's entering his prime. His emergence isn't so much the culmination of a long-term strategic plan but a personal commitment to a consistency of character, performance and growth.

The second season of the UPN sitcom "In the House" bows tonight, during which Coca-Cola will break its first LL Cool J commercial. The spot was created by Rush Media, Los Angeles, a division of Rush Communications, which owns Def Jam Records, the music label to whom the rapper is signed.

Next week, MTV will honor LL Cool J with the Video Vanguard Award for lifetime achievement.

"I Make My Own Rules," LL Cool J's autobiography, arrives Sept. 13 from Ilion Books, a joint venture of St. Martins Press, the artist and his manager, Charles Fisher. In October comes the album "Phenomenon," and that same month will see the first product from Najee, a footwear company created by LL Cool J, Mr. Fisher and various foreign investors.

1998 brings a world tour, global expansion of Camp Cool J, a recreational/vocational summer/winter camp for kids, and a movie version of his autobiography, in which the author will play himself. A studio deal hasn't been signed.

Mr. Fisher said the MCI talks involve the telecommunications company's 1-800-COLLECT; the star also recently appeared in advertising for The Gap.

The two Coca-Cola spots with LL Cool J promote Coca-Cola Classic; the second one will be shot by Rush Media before the end of the year. The shop, whose first work for Coca-Cola aired last year, has become a regular in the soft-drink giant's ad arsenal.

"Rush has a knack for tapping what's really relevant, what hits the core with young people," said the Coca-Cola spokeswoman.

Rush Media taps into the resources of Rush Communications, which has tendrils into the fashion, music and TV industries.

"We aim to make brands relevant by trying to tie into as many synergies as possible," said Anne Simmons, Rush Media's president and co-founder. "With the Coke spot, at every point of contact, we wanted to marry the brand's intrinsic values with what's relevant in the urban marketplace."

The first spot is directed by Brett Ratner, who also directed "Money Talks," a film from New Line Cinema that opened last weekend. The ad concept has LL Cool J struggling to braid his real-life daughter's hair. Taking a sip from a cold Coke Classic doesn't help Dad make the braid as well as Mom can, but it does seem to help alleviate his anxiety.

The line "Keep it real" is twinned with the ubiquitous "Always Coca-Cola" logo.

"He has the potential for becoming this generation's `America's favorite Dad,' " said the Coca-Cola spokeswoman. "He's young enough so that he still relates to young person, and while he represents a lot of values, he doesn't come across as preachy."

Coca-Cola plans to deepen its relationship with LL Cool J and is especially interested in 6-year-old Camp Cool J, managed by Youth Enterprises and based in upstate New York. Coca-Cola wants to supply product to the camp and help develop various programs.

Mr. Fisher said plans are in the works for a global expansion of Camp Cool J, with much of the preliminary work to be done next year during the rapper's world tour. China is being targeted as one of the first international markets.

The first footwear from Najee--named after LL Cool J's son--rolls out the first week of October. Advertising will feature the rapper, via an in-house operation.

"The big boys have always been afraid of a [Hollywood] celebrity endorsing a sneaker," Mr. Fisher said.

He projects that Najee will sell $5 million in its first year. Nike, No. 1 in footwear in the U.S., sold $3.2 billion last year; Puma, No. 25, posted sales of $25 million.

Mr. Fisher said the LL Cool J brand will be marked by a spirituality, a strong sense of morals, family values and commitment to the community.

"With LL, we're creating a new concept of role model for young people that will make them successful going into the new millennium," Mr. Fisher said.

Copyright August 1997, Crain Communications Inc.

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