Entertainment A-List 2010

Entertainment A-List No. 2: Justin Bieber

Pop Star Rides YouTube to Fame, Picking Up Sponsorships From Microsoft, 1-800-Flowers Along the Way

By Published on .

LOS ANGELES (AdAge.com) -- To become a breakout pop artist among the tween set these days, you need one of two things: a show on either the Disney Channel or Nickelodeon, or lots of mainstream radio airplay. But if you're 16-year-old Justin Bieber, you don't need either of those things -- just a rabid internet fan base.

When the then-13-year-old Canadian was discovered by his manager, Scott "Scooter" Braun, a former marketing head for Jermaine Dupri's So So Def Records, videos of Justin singing R&B songs had already racked up 70,000 views on YouTube. He also showed enough raw talent to make any music marketer worth his weight in iPods twitch.

Justin Bieber's manager, Scott Braun
Justin Bieber's manager, Scott Braun
What Mr. Braun realized he could create was a breakout artist that didn't need radio or TV exposure -- the internet was his medium. "I told him, 'Never introduce yourself on your videos, just sing.' If you just sing, people will feel like they're discovering something. That's how Eric B. and Rakim, the Notorious B.I.G. all got their breaks on cassette mix-tapes. This was the new version of that -- fans could feel like they owned him."

That approach helped Justin amass 50 million views on YouTube, leading to a bidding war between his musical idols Usher and Justin Timberlake. Usher eventually won Justin and Mr. Braun over by agreeing to be a partner in the budding pop sensation's career, and brought him into the Island/Def Jam Records family.

Then Justin discovered Twitter. If anyone over the age of 18 has heard of Justin Bieber, it's likely as a trending topic on the microblogging site. Since the release of his debut EP "My World" last November, Justin has replaced Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers and occasionally even Lady Gaga as the most talked-about musical act on Twitter.

It all goes back to Mr. Braun's philosophy of letting the fans have control. If consumers feel like they have a say in the development of your product -- in this case, Justin -- then the rest of the pieces will fall into place. Mr. Braun refers to Justin's 2.5 million Twitter followers as his digital street team.

Number of followers on Twitter
Number of albums "My World 2.0" sold its first week out
Number of times his "Baby" music video has been viewed on YouTube
"They dictate the movements we make. We were in Australia doing press, and I gave a 30-minute interview to @JBSource, who has 50,000 followers, because that was going to be the most important interview we do compared to any TV talk show or radio interview."

Nowadays, Justin has almost become the Tinker Bell of Twitter -- if his fans don't tweet enough, does he still exist? "If he's not on his Twitter, I'll call him and say, 'Get on it,'" Mr. Braun said. "As long as he keeps communicating with his fans, he can address any rumor directly because he's speaking to them."

Accordingly, major brands have started to notice Justin, too. 1-800-Flowers teamed up with the singer for what was intended to be a small Valentine's Day promotion and turned into one of the biggest campaigns in the company's history and an annual relationship with Justin. Microsoft's Xbox gaming console is sponsoring Justin's tour to promote its new hands-free system, which Justin plays with during his shows.

Any other potential endorsement deals, however, are met with strict caution. "Justin giving flowers to girls and their moms? That makes sense. Justin playing video games? That makes sense. But it's important from a brand perspective to keep his integrity -- that's how you become an adult artist. The worst thing artists do is say, 'I'm an artist, I can't do that,' but it's OK to want to make a living off what you do."

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