A Rough Rapper Evolves Into a Polished Cross-Promoter

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LOS ANGELES -- The already ubiquitous Snoop Dogg will become even more so in the coming weeks and months, bolstered by partnerships with brands such as T-Mobile USA, Pony, MasterCard, Electronic Arts and XM Satellite
Among the cascade of products connected to Snoop Dogg is a new line of Pony shoes bearing his 'Doggy Biscuitz' brand.

radio that will help hype his new record, Rhythm and Gangsta: The Masterpiece.

The Geffen/Doggie Style Records CD debuts Nov. 23, but its single, "Drop It Like It's Hot," already is No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. The music video is among the most requested on MTV and BET.

TV, magazines, radio

As part of the album's marketing plans, Snoop Dogg's TV appearances will be numerous -- he'll appear everywhere from girl chat fest Ellen to male-skewing Spike TV. Magazines that target polar opposites, from Time Warner's People to urban lifestyle title XXL, will feature the rapper on their covers. And in addition to concerts, commercials and corporate events, Snoop will launch his "Big Boss Dogg" monthly show on XM Satellite radio.

The Snoop Dogg brand has come a long way. The rapper has cleaned up his image over the years from an intimidating former gang member, ex-con and adult video producer into a likable entertainer who coaches his son's youth football league, appears on Sesame Street and shills for mainstream corporations.

"He's the epitome of a hip-hop entrepreneur because he understands how to leverage his brand in different areas," said Lucian James, brand strategist at San Francisco-based Agenda Inc. "He's owned up to his past, and he's made himself so user-friendly."

AOL to Nokia

So user-friendly, in fact, that mass marketers from America Online to Nokia have prominently placed Snoop Dogg in their ad campaigns, all in the hopes of tapping into his youth appeal and sense of humor.

"He's appealing because he keeps it real," said Chuck Schiller, creative director
Among the cascade of products connected to Snoop Dogg is a new line of Pony shoes bearing his 'Doggy Biscuitz' brand.

of ad agency Richards Group, which created Snoop-centric ads for Nokia. "He's not a parody of himself. He's not suddenly going to become MC Hammer."

Most of the marketers working with Snoop Dogg will have an ongoing relationship with the rapper; new campaigns for brands set to launch around his record release will continue as a platform for broadening marketers' ties to him over time.

The deal with Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Pony, for example, will produce new styles of shoes every month with distribution in urban and boutique retailers. Eventually, there will be some 60 styles in the Doggie Biscuitz line, with the first showing up on shelves this month. Pony is owned in part by The Firm, the Los Angeles-based talent management company that represents Snoop.

Crips bandana look

Far beyond an endorsement deal, Pony designers worked with Snoop Dogg and his interest in sports and "tuner" cars to develop the new products. Even the packaging screams Snoop -- the liner looks like a Crips bandana instead of the usual plain tissue paper.

Although Pony has relied heavily on celebrity seeding in the past to get its products in front of young consumers, the partnership with Snoop Dogg is its first with a recording artist.

"We want to dial into who this guy really is so that the connectivity is apparent to the consumer," said John Lewis, Pony's vice president of marketing. "Snoop is just like Pony: street, old school, with a gritty past."

Pony will put promotional stickers in the upcoming CD, along with guerrilla marketing efforts, and next year plans an in-house-created print campaign, sponsored events and traditional PR.

Plastic Cash International

Meanwhile, a separate deal through L.A.-based Plastic Cash International will put Snoop Dogg's face on MasterCard-branded prepaid cards aimed at young adults. The cards are reloadable, at 50,000 retailers, expanding their life cycles indefinitely. The marketer plans a February launch of cards featuring musical artists -- the cards' first link with entertainment -- with Snoop being the center of the campaign.

Cell phone service provider T-Mobile will use Snoop around the holidays as part of its TV ad campaign highlighting its two-way calling service. Other celebs in the ads include the equally ubiquitous Paris Hilton, along with Outkast's Big Boi and Burt Reynolds.

Snoop is also working with Electronic Arts, having recording a remix of The Doors's classic "Riders of the Storm" for the game maker's racing title Need for Speed Underground 2, at the request of Steve Schnur, EA's worldwide executive of music. Snoop will perform the song with surviving members of The Doors on Spike TV's Video Game Awards show next month. The cable network also aired a recent making-of Need for Speed special with a Snoop performance.

"There's a fine line on when it's too much," said Constance Schwartz, Snoop's manager at The Firm. "But it's important to him that he believes in the products and uses them. He doesn't just endorse something."

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  • Guest starred on NBC's Las Vegas. Outfits he wore on the show will be auctioned for children's charities.

  • Performed on UPN's Vibe Awards (Nov. 16) and the American Music Awards (Nov. 14).

  • Performed a remix of The Doors' "Riders on the Storm" for the in-game sound track for the Electronic Arts' video game "Need for Speed Underground 2" that launched this week.

  • Appeared in a Spike TV show on the making-of Need for Speed.

  • Appears in a T-Mobile ad campaign with Paris Hilton.

  • Will launch his "Big Boss Dog" monthly program on XM Satellite Radio.

  • Will host the Video Game Awards show on Spike TV Dec. 14.

  • Is set to appear on MTV and BET specials on the making-of his new record, and the covers of music and lifestyle magazines Blender, Fader, Vibe and XXL. Features on Snoop will appear in Rolling Stone, Maxim, People and The Los Angeles Times.

  • Will appear as a guest on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, Ellen and Late Night with David Letterman.

  • Will perform at the Jingle Ball, a Los Angeles radio-sponsored music fest Dec. 3.
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