Sweet Deal to Promote Tweeny-Bop Girl Group
New York Times
January 28, 2009
LOS ANGELES — In their drive to become the Next Big Thing in teenage entertainment, the Clique Girlz have had more opportunities than most.
The youthful trio, backed by Interscope Records and the powerful Creative Artists Agency, have opened for the Jonas Brothers and appeared on “Today,” where Al Roker called them “Hannah Montana times three.” They sang in last year’s Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and Interscope has flooded YouTube with over 30 videos.
None of those sparks have started a fire. Instead, the Clique Girlz — Destinee Monroe, 14; her sister, Paris, 12; and their best friend, Ariel Moore, 14 — are in danger of washing out of the entertainment industry before their first full CD comes to market. So far, at least, digital downloads have been anemic, and play on Radio Disney, where programming is based on listener requests, has been modest at best.
But the Clique Girlz, who hail from Egg Harbor Township, N.J., have been thrown what could turn out to be a lifeline — and from no lesser a judge of talent than Michael D. Eisner, the former chief executive of the Walt Disney Company.
Topps, the candy and collectibles company that Mr. Eisner bought in 2007, has signed the Clique Girlz as commercial spokeswomen for Baby Bottle Pop, one of the Top 10 nonchocolate candy brands. The candy has two parts, a nipple-shaped lollipop top and a bottle-shaped container filled with fruit-flavored powder. Consumers are meant to lick the top and dip it into the powder. The performers will have their photo on Topps packaging, appear in television ads on Nickelodeon, Cartoon Network and Toon Disney, and in a print campaign set for teeny-bopper must-reads like Twist magazine.
Topps will also emphasize the group on the Baby Bottle Pop Web site (babybottlepop.com), offering webisodes, ring tones, games and a tour tracker, starting next month. The centerpiece of the deal calls for the group to “re-imagine” the Baby Bottle Pop ad jingle, well-known among 6- to 12-year-old girls. “They haven’t popped yet, but the elements are there, and we’re superexcited,” said Ari Weinstock, director of marketing for Topps.
The Jonas Brothers signed a nearly identical life-support deal with Topps in the period between getting dropped by Sony and being signed by Walt Disney Records in the summer of 2007. Mr. Weinstock credits the campaign with helping the band catch Disney’s eye. A spokeswoman for Disney Records declined to comment.
Steve Berman, president of marketing for Interscope, described the partnership as a “fantastic opportunity.” Interscope, by the way, does not agree that the outlook for the group is gloomy, with Mr. Berman saying the label has held the girls back on purpose. “We don’t want this group to go to mainstream radio until we really have solidified them in the market,” he said. Interscope has released multiple Clique Girlz singles, but doesn’t plan to unveil a full album until summer.
It may sound routine — teenage band signs marketing deal with candy company — but the partnership underscores the difficulty the music industry is having when it comes to introducing successful acts for the children’s market. Even when the big labels have potential stars on board, they are struggling more than ever to capitalize on them.
Disney has shown with the Jonas Brothers, Miley Cyrus (a k a Hannah Montana), “High School Musical” and, to a lesser degree, Demi Lovato and Selena Gomez, that there is a huge demand for such confection. But without Disney’s child-oriented radio, television and theme-park platform at their disposal, labels like Interscope are left scrounging up whatever mass-marketing opportunities they can.
There are few more crucial tasks for the music business than developing new teenage acts. Prepubescent children, media executives say, are among the few remaining reliable buyers of music. Last year, 10- to 14-year-olds spent about $1.2 billion on CDs and song downloads, according to the Recording Industry Association of America.
For Topps, signing up the Clique Girlz carries little risk. If the band doesn’t strike a chord soon, Topps moves on. But if sales are as strong as Interscope hopes, the Baby Bottle Pop brand could get a boost. The Jonas Brothers certainly gave it one: Mr. Weinstock, citing Nielsen figures, said sales of the candy increased 7 percent in 2007 over the previous year, and increased 12 percent in 2008. “Quite impressive for a mature brand,” he said.
The Clique Girlz have more at stake. “The teen market used to look down on blatant marketing partnerships like this,” said Matt Britton, a managing partner at Mr. Youth, a New York marketing firm. “Now, because the music industry is in such bad shape, overt efforts to manufacture buzz are expected. But it still has to ring true.”