Deidre Graham

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Ashanti's debut album sold 3.1 million copies, she received five Grammy nominations-and she even unveiled the new Mars M&M color last year, purple. The 22-year-old hip-hop songstress is hot.

The marketing of the pop phenom and her music has been centered on exposure and managing the brand rather than traditional marketing. Deidre Graham, VP-marketing at Island Def Jam Music, the parent company of Ashanti's label Murder Inc., is the force behind the brand, but she takes little of the credit. Island Def Jam is part of Universal Music Group.

"You have a hot record, you're going to be OK," she says. The record, titled "Ashanti," was released in April 2002 and sold 500,000 copies in the first week. The album has sold 4 million copies worldwide.

Much of the initial week's sales were driven by the label's innovative strategy to offer a rebate program whereby each retailer received $2.50 for each album sold. The rebate was part of a new Universal program, says Ms. Graham.

While the album was the young singer's first, she was something of a known commodity since she had recorded songs "Always on Time" with Ja Rule and "What's Luv?" with Fat Joe before her own record. "Those records being as big as they were gave her a good setup so people already identified with her," she says.

The marketing was handled completely within Def Jam and the label's mission was to "keep her fresh, keep her in the right situation," says Ms. Graham, a seven-year veteran of Def Jam, who has also promoted top artists from the label: Ja Rule, LL Cool J and Jay-Z. After getting her start in the music industry as an office manager at Def Jam, Ms. Graham rose to senior marketing director, until she was promoted this month to VP-marketing. Part of Ms. Graham's job was to approve opportunities that came Ashanti's way. For a new artist, promotional tours play a large part. "We have to make sure it's the right move, the right exposure, and [we must] protect the brand," she says. Some of the green-light projects approved by Ms. Graham were the covers of Essence, Ebony, Honey, Teen People and Vibe, as well as appearances on MTV, BET, ABC's "Live With Regis & Kelly," and NBC's "Saturday Night Live," "Today" and the series "American Dreams." She also appeared on a float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade last year.

The artist is currently working on her follow-up album, slated for a July 1 release. Six songs have been recorded, but the title isn't set yet. In early March, she was scheduled to leave for Australia to perform with Ja Rule for two weeks, marking her seventh international tour.

The target market for Ashanti's work is the 12-to-24-year-old demographic, primarily females. As a Grammy winner-she took home the award for best contemporary R&B album-the young star has definitely crossed over and extended her reach well beyond the urban market, Ms. Graham says.

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