Sean Combs Models Himself as a Master of Marketing

Q&A: Youtube, Viral Videos, Partnership with BK, Help Diddy Create a Stir Around his New Album

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Sean Combs is not known for his subtlety.

"I'm a modern day P.T. Barnum!" the hip-hop entrepreneur now called Diddy told Advertising Age during a break from his cross-country whistle-stop tour to promote his first record in five years. "I take pride in being an entertainer. I'm having fun with it."

And just like the legendary circus showman, Diddy knows how to sell.

The mogul, who can generate headlines for simply dropping an initial from his name, is trying to make a splash around his new CD "Press Play." To do so, he's embracing both mainstream marketers such as Burger King and Wal-Mart and digital media such as MySpace and YouTube.

The self-proclaimed "king of music and fashion" launched his own channel on YouTube recently, which he said has been at least a year in the works. He's using it to post webisodes of everything from his late-night musings about life to him brushing his teeth and getting a haircut.

But it's not just about him, he said. He intends it to be a place where his fans can chat about any number of topics. He's knows there will be parodies and haters-and he's been on the receiving end of both as detractors have lashed out at DiddyTV and the sponsorship by Burger King. He figures it's just part of the territory. His MySpace page has 380,000 friends and counting, some of whom had surprise phone calls from Diddy himself recently when he decided to do some informal outreach.

Never taking his eye off the ball, Diddy will use his YouTube channel to keep up his emphasis on "Press Play," which features guest performances from Jamie Foxx, Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley, Brandy, Timbaland, Nas and Keyshia Cole.

As the record launches this week, it could shine the spotlight back on Diddy the musical artist and three-time Grammy winner. He's become better known these days for his forays into fashion, where his Unforgivable men's fragrance is the best-selling department-store cologne in the country and his designer Sean John clothing lines pull in nearly $400 million a year in retail sales.

How did the Burger King deal come about, and what will you be doing as part of the relationship?

It's the same as when Justin Timberlake signs a deal with McDonald's or Britney Spears or Bon Jovi gets a sponsor for their tour. Burger King is sponsoring my promotional tour and my performances for "Press Play."

They want to be involved with what I'm doing on multiple platforms. People love to be in business with me because they see that I work hard and I reach out to the kids. I try to work with different endorsers, but I have to believe in their brand. The offers have to make sense- it's not just about a check. I don't need the money.

This is a relationship very focused around the tour. I had some personal meetings with Russ Klein [BK's president-global marketing, strategy and innovation]. I'm online and they want to be online, talking to the same people. If we do a commercial, we might not even release it on television. We stand for a lot of the same things, like "Have It Your Way." It's about freedom, independence, following your own rules, being positive.

I'm not selling no burgers-I ain't holding no burgers in my hand.

I think it shows how far hip-hop has come. We couldn't get anybody to work with us back in the day. The world is changing.

(There are a few more sponsorship deals in the works for the tour, but Diddy said he couldn't give details while negotiations are ongoing.)

Why did you want to do Diddy TV, and why have you been so active on MySpace and with viral videos?

We started out with some silly webisodes, and it just grew. I didn't really have an ulterior motive. I was just trying to show different sides of me-the human side-and I found out I really enjoyed talking to people with no middleman. It wasn't another great Puffy marketing scheme. It's such a personal thing that you have to be passionate about it; you have to really want to be involved.

I've always tried to be cutting edge and first-that's what my companies are all about. I wanted to be on MySpace and YouTube to communicate with people. We shoot fresh webisodes all the time, and I have a daily blog. I wanted to do it without having it look like it's self-serving. I'm not selling Sean John or Unforgivable on there. I've gotten a lot of notoriety from it, but I just do it to be in touch with what's going on.

Did you phone some of the friends from your MySpace page?

Yeah. They really bugged out. I asked them what was going on in their lives, what they were into, what they were thinking about. Simple communication goes a long way. I got a lot of information. I realized when you follow through with young people, they believe in you. They said, 'He cares about us, he's respectful and he respects that we support him.'

It's common now to see musical artists working with marketers. How do you think fans perceive these relationships?

I see where people think it's a little offensive sometimes, but it costs money to go on tour and put on shows, so people work with sponsors. I don't know if every recording artist can do it. I work with sponsors and make no apologies for that, but so does Nascar and the NBA and the NFL. My sponsors have to support my charities and they have to make sense for my overall brand. Nobody could pay me no amount of money to do something I don't believe in.
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