Street cred for prepay: Nextel's Boost dials up rappers to pump sales

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Boost Mobile, competing for share in the fast-growing prepaid wireless marketplace, is trying to get some of the street cred hip-hop has bestowed upon marketers of everything from cars to sneakers.

Boost, a division of Nextel Communications, launched in Southern California in 2002 with a strategy of targeting surf- and snow-boarders and other extreme-sports enthusiasts. But as it expands into seven major markets, Boost is evolving its strategy with a spot featuring three hot rap artists-Kanye West, Ludacris and The Game, a member of 50 Cent's G-Unit. The TV, print and radio campaign, tagged "Where You At?," will later expand to include film and eventually involve other celebrities, said Darryl Cobbin, Boost Mobile's VP-marketing.

Mr. Cobbin, a former executive with Coca-Cola Co.'s Sprite, said his mission is to build Boost into a unique and sustainable brand more profitable per subscriber than it would be if it were marketed under the Nextel name. The brand is targeted to "street savvy, irreverent" 14-to 24-year olds.


In "Anthem," created by WPP Group's Berlin Cameron/Red Cell, New York, the artists plug the service in a music-video style. All three artists actually use Boost Mobile phones and the Push to Talk service in a performance of music created by these artists specifically for Boost Mobile. "It's taking something that is happening naturally in the marketplace-people using their cellphones and the walkie-talkie feature-and creating an artistically credible piece of music," said Ewen Cameron, CEO, Berlin Cameron.

Both a rapper and a producer, West, in the commercial, kicks out the beat from his studio in Chicago, and each of the others-Ludacris from his hometown, Atlanta, and The Game in Los Angeles-listen and pick it up over the cellphone and perform. Mr. Cameron said that at least one radio station has played the song on air.

Mr. Cobbin said Boost is trying to be viewed as a status and lifestyle product. "It's no longer about the phone in your pocket," he said, but rather the phone you place on the table and "present" to others.

Boost reported in July in its second quarter earnings report that it had 605,000 subscribers, with an expectation it would almost double its base, increasing subscribers by more than 500,000 in the last half of 2004. Virgin Mobile leads the market with some 1.75 million subscribers.

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