Snoop Dog, Jay-Z pitch: Heavies of hip-hop lend phat to Nokia

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Nokia Corp. is making its first foray into hip-hop with a five-part ad campaign featuring Snoop Dog and a separate Jay-Z spot touting its Black Phone, a customized handset with the rapper's hit "The Black Album" embedded in its MP3 player.

The spots could be a swan song for The Richards Group, the Dallas agency that has had the Nokia account for seven years. Nokia has sent out feelers to a number of agencies since new VP-Marketing Jo Harlow came on board from Reebok International in the fall.

"We wanted to give the best of the best on this campaign," said Chuck Schiller, Richards Group's creative director. "They're a smart client, and they have to do what they think is right for their business. We just wanted to do it big, and we'll have to let the chips fall where they may."

ongoing story

Nokia spent $260 million on advertising worldwide and in the U.S. spent $36.8 million in measured media in 2002, according to the TNS Media Intelligence/CMR.

Nokia and Richards executives were busy side-by-side in Hollywood last week, shuttling between shooting locations of the Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z spots. The latter effort, which is being handled by Richards' urban-marketing unit, Shift, kicks off this month.

The Snoop Dogg spots, directed by independent filmmaker Guy Ritchie, begin around Christmas and lead up to Nokia's title-sponsored Sugar Bowl on ABC. The commercials set up an ongoing story about people who covet the Sugar Bowl's winning trophy. Snoop Dogg, with the help of several Nokia products and various character disguises, tries to figure out who's stalking the trophy. Consumers are encouraged to play along via their Nokia phones.

All five spots will also air during the first half of the championship football game Jan. 4, and a three-minute resolution will come during the half-time show. The campaign will focus on three Nokia products: the newly-launched N-gage gaming phone, the refreshed 3620 mobile phone-digital camera combo, and the 3300 music phone with an MP3 player built in. There will be a consumer sweepstakes overlay, though details are still coming together.

The marketer has used a few Hollywood types in ads before, but never hip-hop stars.

"This is a bit of shift for us," said Bridget Ahr, group manager of Nokia's consumer marketing. "We want to give more dimension to the Nokia brand and emphasize the fun and entertainment."

The fiercely competitive telecom category has not been a hip-hop world, though marketers in other categories are increasingly latching onto influential rappers. Reebok signed Jay-Z this year (along with 50 Cent and Missy Elliott) and has shipped the second wave of his signature shoe line to stores. The first sold out of its half-million run.

snoop, babes, low-rider

In addition to Snoop Dogg, a sports fan who coaches his son's football team, on-air commentator and former Auburn coach Terry Bowden and Texas Christian University's wacky Horn Frog mascot appear in the ads. Snoop, in keeping with his image, surrounds himself with a bevy of babes and spins around in a tricked-out lowrider.

This is the ninth year of Nokia's sponsorship of the Sugar Bowl, which is played in New Orleans and serves as this year's NCAA Bowl Championship Series game between the Oklahoma Sooners and the Louisiana State University Tigers. The brand takes over the game with commercials, stadium signage, logos on uniforms and branded halftime shows. "This year, we really wanted an entertainment piece," Ms. Ahr said. "We wanted to go beyond anything we'd ever done before."

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