Russell Simmons Eager to Talk Business

Hip-Hop Mogul Generous With Advice at Advertising 2.0 Conference

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "I see cool shit all the time, but no marketer does it on a consistent basis, and that's the key to developing brand equity in the [multicultural] marketplace," said Russell Simmons, CEO of Rush Communications.

Speaking at the Advertising 2.0 conference in Manhattan today, the hip-hop mogul was describing the multicultural marketing efforts of mainstream marketers.

Consistency in action
Dressed in his usual work attire of dark jeans, blindingly white sneakers, an oversized track jacket and an orange polo shirt topped with a New York Yankees hat, Mr. Simmons said that despite the growing influence, numbers and spending power of multicultural consumers, marketers still haven't figured out how to effectively communicate with them.

"No one is speaking to these [consumers] in an honest voice," Mr. Simmons said. "2050 is coming and the demographics [of the U.S. population] are going to be very different, and that's not just going to hit [marketers] on the head one day. It's doing it every day."

Mr. Simmons touched on a number of other topics, including the importance of the digital space, the evolution of the urban consumer, the relevance of cause marketing and plans for his website Globalgrind.com.

He said the digital space is an excellent marketing tool and that marketers should use it to gauge consumer sentiment.

Listening online
"You can find out a lot about your brand online," he said. "And by listening to what [consumers] say, you can figure out how to refresh it."

Refreshing his own brand was something Mr. Simmons had to do when he realized the people who grew up entrenched in early hip-hop culture were now moving into their 30s (he refers to them as "Urban Graduates") and could no longer wear the same clothes. "People who grew up on hip-hop can't wear Phat Farm," he said. "Sen. [Barack] Obama can't wear Phat Farm." The revelation sparked the birth of the Russell Simmons Argyle Culture.

Mr. Simmons said multicultural consumers also respond well to cause-related efforts. But he cautioned that when picking a cause, a company needs to choose one with an emotional connection to both the community and the brand itself. For Simmons Jewelry, he created the Green Initiative jewelry collection that includes watches, bracelets and pendants. Portions of sales from the first piece, the Green Bracelet, will go toward supporting educational efforts in Africa. Mr. Simmons attributes the success of the line to this cause effort, saying it was the only marketing the company has done for the line.

Marketing with heart
"There's a benefit for any one of us who learns to give," he said. "If you do the right thing, your ad dollars are not as effective as your philanthropy dollars. It can be a key to building a brand in the future, and it will always be a key to me. But make sure it's a fit with your company."

Looking ahead, Mr. Simmons said his next big project was the development of Globalgrind.com. On the social-networking site, visitors can link and share photos, videos and articles in a wide variety of categories including music, entertainment, hip-hop, news and a category called Politricks.
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