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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

On Mondays we talk about technology. And today we'll look at musicians hitting the virtual world. If you're a rap fan, you probably know that tomorrow 50 Cent is releasing his latest album. He's his song "Straight to the Bank."

(Soundbite of song, "Straight to the Bank")

INSKEEP: "Straight to the Bank" is an appropriate title since there are many marketing opportunities here. 50 Cent chose a rather momentous date - September 11th - for its release. He'll be going head-to-head with another rapper on that day.

But that's just one part of his strategy. And here to tell us about another Andrew Hampp, a media reporter for Advertising Age magazine.

Welcome to the program.

Mr. ANDREW HAMPP (Media Reporter, Advertising Age Magazine): Thank you, Steve.

INSKEEP: What's 50 Cent doing online?

Mr. HAMPP: Since July, 50 Cent has partnered with various social networking sites, particularly in the virtual world space. We saw him create an avatar of his self, which is, you know, like a virtual kind of cartoonish character where he took it to a site like Zwinktopia.com, which is kind of aimed at like the younger teen set who might not quite be tapped into the - like the Second Life and the other kind of virtual world spaces and, you know, was able to start promoting some of the singles for this new album, "Curtis," that drops tomorrow.

INSKEEP: I almost feel like we have to define all this for people who maybe live in the real world. Second Life, we've actually reported on it in the past. People can go around. They can buy real estate, they can shop for stuff, they can, by the way, buy music. And you're saying Zwink is another site for younger people where they can do very similar things.

Mr. HAMPP: That's correct. It's kind of like an upgraded paper doll, if you will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HAMPP: You can kind of - you can pick out the outfits you want to put on your 50 Cent.

INSKEEP: Okay. And you can buy records here, is that actually possible?

Mr. HAMPP: It allows you to download the singles but there's no direct to purchase album.

INSKEEP: But the point of 50 Cent being there is to be in front of - is it millions - millions of registered people using this site?

Mr. HAMPP: Yes. And you can also take it to other social networking sites as well. So you can actually put your 50 Cent Zwink avatar on a MySpace page, for example.

INSKEEP: What's NPR 50 Cent look like online?

Mr. HAMPP: You know, that jaw line, somehow it doesn't look quiet as pronounced in the virtual sense.

INSKEEP: Is there any danger here of appearing - well, I don't know - silly?

Mr. HAMPP: You know, definitely, for sure, which is why we're still seeing reticence from a lot of pop stars, like there's not - I mean, there's a lot of likenesses being made of some of these celebrities in the virtual space. But there are very few that are actually partnering with sites, which makes it that much more meaningful. You know, we're seeing like Avril Lavigne and Hillary Duff, also partnered with a similar kind of virtual world site called Stardoll, which is literally like paper dolls 2.0.

INSKEEP: What do you mean partnering? What do they do?

Mr. HAMPP: They're actually licensing their brand and products. Like Hillary Duff also has a clothing line and she has a new album and tour. So it was a good kind of way to get the Hillary Duff brand out there.

INSKEEP: How does anybody know if this is translating into sales?

Mr. HAMPP: Well, the return on investment here is still a little unproven. However, there are some positive examples such as the week that Avril Lavigne, for example, partners with Stardoll, her album went to number one on the Billboard chart, and tomorrow's going to a pivotal day for 50 and Kanye, because...

INSKEEP: Kanye. Kanye, that's the other rapper putting out...

Mr. HAMPP: Yeah. Kanye West.

INSKEEP: ...on 9/11.

Mr. HAMPP: Yup.

INSKEEP: What are some other ways that people have used the Web for creative marketing and music recently?

Mr. HAMPP: Well, obviously, you know, MySpace has been the big destination for people to kind of, you know, get the first word out. So you know, kind of - something that has like a novelty, almost, you know, something that's going to have a viral value to it.

INSKEEP: Does viral value mean you put something on the Web that other people are going to link to and click on and it's going to spread and people are going to spread word about it?

Mr. HAMPP: Right. Yeah. Exactly. It's something that is intended to be spread and shared, something that can be easily spread and shared.

INSKEEP: Free advertising once you get it started.

Mr. HAMPP: Exactly.

INSKEEP: Andrew Hampp is a media reporter for Advertising Age magazine. He's in New York.

Thanks very much.

Mr. HAMPP: Thank you, Steve.

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