RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
One million owners of Samsung's Galaxy phones tomorrow will get to download rap star Jay-Z's latest album, three days before its official release. It's part of one of the highest profile albums and phone promotions ever.
And as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, we're likely to see many more marketing deals like this one in the future.
LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The Jay-Z/Samsung campaign had a high profile launch.
(SOUNDBITE OF AN ADVERTISEMENT)
JAY-Z: What is that? What the hell is that? Oh, man. That was fresh but what?
SYDELL: That is Jay-Z. In case you missed it, this three-minute ad is a pseudo verite look at Jay-Z in the studio. It aired during Game 5 of the NBA finals. It also featured the famous producer Rick Rubin who recently said he isn't actually producing the album.
(SOUNDBITE OF A VIDEO)
RICK RUBIN: The idea is to really finish the album and drop it.
JAY-Z: Great. Beautiful.
SYDELL: At the end of the ad, a website, MagnaCartaHolyGrail.com and the name of the phone, Samsung Galaxy, come up, white type on black background. Website visitors leaned that Jay-Z's new album "Magna Carta Holy Grail" will become available to the first million Samsung Galaxy users to download an app by July 4th, three days before its release.
Samsung spent $5 million purchasing those one million copies of Jay-Z's album. Ben Wiener, CEO of the ad agency WDCW, estimates Samsung spent another $15 million or so on the campaign. He thinks it's the highlight of a turnaround.
BEN WIENER: I think if you said, five years ago, that Samsung would be rivaling Apple and stealing market share and emerging as, you know, the most culturally connected and relevant brand of recent years, people would have laughed at you.
SYDELL: They're not laughing now. Over 11 million people were watching the game and some 23 million watched the Jay-Z ad on YouTube. And there are a lot of other hip-hop artists who think Jay-Z made a smart move.
Take someone like Master P, he pioneered turning himself and his label into a brand. On a recent edition of MTV's "RapFix Live," he had this to say.
MASTER P: To be honest with you, I think it's genius because to partner up with a technology company, you know, I'm working on mine's right now. Hopefully, Verizon call me real soon. My next record, I'm going to drop it through them and do it at a football game or something, you know, what I'm saying?
SYDELL: Over the last decade, it's gotten a lot harder to sell albums - the record industry has shrunk by half. Hooking your name to a big corporate brand can help. Last year, Taylor Swift made a deal with Papa John's Pizza - you could get her new CD delivered along with your pie.
Jim Donio of NARM, the music business association, says even if you didn't get the CD...
JIM DONIO: Taylor Swift's face was on the pizza box so that marketing to you was still happening if you didn't know that the album was out.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DIAMONDS FROM SIERRA LEONE")
JAY-Z: (Rapping) I'm guessing I could sell CDs. I'm not a businessman. I'm a business man.
SYDELL: And like Jay-Z once sung, he's not just a businessman, he's a business man. And Jay-Z is getting a lot of promotion out of his deal with Samsung, along with those millions of dollars. And Samsung?
ELI ALTMAN: What they're trying to get is cool points.
SYDELL: Eli Altman is with the branding firm A Hundred Monkeys. He's not convinced that Samsung is really going to get all the cool points it wants.
ALTMAN: They're inserting themselves as a middle man between a ton of people who want a new Jay-Z album and the actual product.
SYDELL: Altman says chances are good that after the first few Samsung Galaxy owners download the app and open the album, someone will put it up online for free. And celebrity endorsements, well, they don't necessarily sell phones.
Alicia Keys signed up as the spokesperson for BlackBerry, and so far, that hasn't done much for the company's tepid sales.
But, ad executive Ben Wiener says when people download Samsung's app, it can be used in an ongoing way to market to its customers.
WIENER: They can be a vehicle for all sorts of content for the future that can solidify a relationship between Samsung and these consumers.
SYDELL: In the end, Wiener says if Samsung wants to sell phones, the technology better be good. And if Jay-Z wants to sell albums, the music better be good.
WIENER: I think you have to be a better artist to pull this off, because I think the degree to which you can potentially alienate your audience by releasing a less than great album, you know, you're asking people to download an app and to essentially be marketed to, to get your content for free, and I think they'll be people looking to knock Jay-Z off of his pedestal and say that, you know, he doesn't have it anymore.
SYDELL: Wiener says if Jay-Z's album does well, his pedestal will get higher; and when it comes to future deals, so will his price.
Laura Sydell, NPR News.