July 5, 2005

Would you spend $3,500 on a 50 Cent watch?

By Michael Paoletta

NEW YORK (Billboard) - It has been a busy couple of weeksfor celebrity-driven hip-hop brands.

Rapper The Game partnered with 310 Motoring and Skechers tocreate a shoe line. Nelly introduced his premium light energydrink PJ Tight. And Jacob "Jacob the Jeweler" Arabo partneredwith couture sneaker company SneakerLuxe to form Jacob & Co.Footwear.

Meanwhile, 50 Cent announced he would promote Reebok's GXTII cross-trainer (the latest in his own sneaker brand) andlaunch the G-Unit watch line -- available in many styles,including an MP3-playing model -- priced at up to $3,500.

Which begs the question -- are celebrity endorsementsbecoming too much of a good thing?

"There are a lot of people who believe that celebrity isenough of an added value to any product to make it successful,"says Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys, abrand and customer loyalty consulting company in New York. "Butit's usually not."

Especially now. According to Ed Foy, CEO of eFashionSolutions -- which manages the online operations forfashion-branded manufacturers -- today's market is cleaningitself out. He likens it to the dotcom bubble burst. "Somepeople have stumbled, while others have stumbled andpersevered," he says.


Foy counts Jay-Z and Damon Dash's Rocawear, Sean "P. Diddy"Combs' Sean Jean, Russell and Kimora Lee Simmons' Phat Fashions(Phat Farm and Baby Phat) and Nelly's Apple Bottoms among thesuccess stories. He says Jennifer Lopez's JLO fashions hadproblems at the beginning, but are now "heading for greenerpastures."

Conversely, Foy says Eminem's Shady brand "is strugglingbig time." The company may simply need to have a meeting of theminds to figure out the exact lifestyle of the brand. "Thesuccessful brands leverage celebrity and product category," Foyadds.

In the case of 50 Cent, he needs to think of himself as abrand -- not a person.

"He can go broad, but his foundation needs to be strong andsturdy," explains Jonah Disend, president of brand strategyconsulting firm Redscout in New York. In the process, "he mustnot lose sense of his artistry."

As for the success potential of 50 Cent's G-Unit watch line-- MP3 model or not -- Disend cannot help but wonder who willpay up to $3,500 for one of the rapper's watches.

"At that point, buy an entry-level (luxury) product likeRolex. The status is in Rolex, not 50 Cent."