Walmart Hearts Justin Bieber

Retailer Debuts Semi-Exclusive Relationship With Tween Heartthrob's Line of Music, Fragrances and Nail Polish

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BATAVIA, Ohio (AdAge.com) -- There may not be a hot toy for 2010 on par with last year's Zhu Zhu pets, but Walmart might be able to make do this holiday season with a hot import from Canada rather than China: Justin Bieber.

Justin Bieber
Justin Bieber Credit: Kathy Hutchins

Walmart is increasingly dominating the market for all things Bieber heading into the holiday season -- including exclusive lines of nail polish and a fragrance designed or inspired by the 16-year-old Canadian tween idol and Twitter phenom. Mr. Bieber has developed a very special if not entirely exclusive relationship with earth's biggest retailer, though Walmart declined to comment on just how extensive the partnership may yet become.

On Oct. 27, Mr. Bieber told his 5.6 million followers on Twitter, where he ranks No. 5, just behind Barack Obama and just ahead of Ellen DeGeneres, that his acoustic album will go on sale first at Walmart Nov. 22. That's a day ahead of the general market release. Specifically, he Tweeted: "ACOUSTIC ALBUM hits WALMART on NOV 22nd!!!" Yes, it was a three-exclamation-point event.

It's hard to imagine just how many of those javelins will be flying in the next few weeks as Walmart also gets first dibs on Mr. Bieber's fragrance line, "My World," which will appear on Black Friday (Nov. 26) at the giant retailer.

The unisex fragrance line, backed by Mr. Bieber's manager Scooter Braun, Island Records and Etoile Nation Beauty, comes in four scents priced at $10 with each meant to be mixed and matched for a personalized smell. In a kicker that plays perfectly on the year's biggest toy craze, Silly Bandz, it will also come in the form of scent-infused wrist bands and dog tags.

But wait, Mr. Bieber will need to hold back some exclamation points in that quiver, because there's more. Coming in December, Walmart gets first dibs on a Justin Bieber-designed line of nail polishes from Nicole by OPI, including one titled "One Less Lonely Girl," after one of the tween heartthrob's more popular songs. The giant retailer gets this all three months ahead of the rest of the market, which will have to wait until after Christmas.

All of this is particularly timely for Walmart, which finds itself needing to fill a void in the tween idol department.

Look for the Justin Bieber-designed line of nail polishes at from Nicole OPI starting next month.
Look for the Justin Bieber-designed line of nail polishes at from Nicole OPI starting next month.

The retailer was heavily invested in Miley Cyrus, who succeeded Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as the namesake for an apparel line and host of other licensed merchandise aimed at the tween market.

But Ms. Cyrus' stock and Q Scores have plummeted among tweens and their parents of late thanks to a host of well-publicized attempts by the 17-year-old to appeal more to an adult audience, including racy videos and a faux girl-on-girl kiss on TV in the U.K. One possible fill-in for Ms. Cyrus, Selena Gomez, doesn't quite have the same awareness level and is signed to an exclusive Kmart deal.

Q Scores began tracking Mr. Bieber only this year, but he's made a big splash fast, with his awareness rating surging from 60% in March to 86% in September. Among teens, Mr. Bieber's awareness went from 67% in March to 94% in September, the latter score actually making him the most-recognized of any celebrity among teens, said Q Scores Exec VP Henry Schafer.

His positive rating, however, still trails those of Disney princesses Ms. Gomez and even a post-pole-dance Ms. Cyrus. Mr. Bieber rates a 23% positive score among tweens and 19% among teens. As he's relatively new, his positives are likely to grow, Mr. Schafer said, adding, "I think [Walmart] made a good choice."

So far, though, his Walmart association hasn't dominated the discussion online. Google Insights for Search shows searches for "Walmart and Bieber" pulled away from those of "Target and Bieber" this year, but the retailer still lags "Amazon and Bieber."

Fortunately, though, searches for "Walmart and Bieber" passed those for "Walmart and Cyrus" back in June. And by far the biggest search spike came in October on "Bieber nail polish" thanks to the sheer novelty and blog interest.

The spate of temporary exclusives on Justin Bieber merchandise in beauty care are in line with a host of such deals in the past year under Walmart VP-Beauty and Personal Care Carmen Bauza, including bringing in former prestige cosmetics brand Hard Candy last year. But as the pacts also extend to music, it suggests a broader deal with more categories to come.

Walmart, however, isn't saying if its Bieber fever is spreading. A spokeswoman said the retailer generally declines to comment on its partnerships.

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