Creatively speaking, says David Caruso, he’s not much of an artist. In fact, he says, he can barely “draw a stick figure.” But he does know artistic talent when he sees it, as well as how to surround himself with creative types who help inspire him to craft interesting ideas — skills that serve him well in his role as co-founder and president of Acme Brand Content Co.
One of his most recent — not to mention highest-profile — ideas is Tag Records, a hip-hop music label co-created and owned by Procter & Gamble for its Tag Body Spray product. Its first song, “On a Mission,” was released on iTunes earlier this month. When P&G execs asked Acme to engage younger urbanites with the brand, Caruso says they realized that “urban music was the common thread. It’s a place where [this demo] looks for cues and trends — and inspiration.”
The label, which wants to foster emerging talent as well as be a positive voice in the hip-hop community, is a partnership with Island Def Jam Music Group. “On a Mission” is from Q Da Kid and features rapper Jermaine Dupri, president of both Tag Records and Island Urban (part of the Island Def Jam network). Acme works closely with both Tag’s and Island Def Jam’s advertising, media, interactive and public relations agencies to ensure that Tag Records and Tag Body Spray have synergy across platforms.
Building a label backed by a marketer “is not an easy road [to take],” says Caruso, whose company’s first-year anniversary was Oct. 1. “The easier one would have been to attach ourselves to one of the hot hip-hop stars out there today. But we’re hoping ours is a more sustainable road [to] building the brand.”
Other Acme clients include Avon’s boutique beauty brand, Mark, for which the company formed a partnership with reality TV star and fashion designer Lauren Conrad (The Hills). The result is a co-branded line of accessories, Lauren Conrad for Mark. For the Sean Kimerling Testicular Cancer Foundation, Acme is working on a campaign for early ’09 to raise awareness of the disease. It’s also working with European luxury bed brand Hastens for a campaign set to break in the first half of ’09. Caruso says the details of both campaigns are still under wraps.
A native of Bristol, R.I., Caruso, 33, was, he says, “all about sports and entertainment” when he was growing up. He played soccer religiously from age 5 to 18, but realizing his chances of becoming a professional soccer star were slim, decided to focus instead on business. He attended American University and then worked briefly at now-defunct Landis Lombardi, an entertainment promotions company in Rhode Island.
Caruso says he enjoyed the job, but missed the intellectual and strategic aspects of marketing integral to brand building. So in 1999, Caruso, then 23, moved to New York and landed a job as an account exec with Grey Entertainment (a now-defunct division of Grey Advertising ). “I was still in a space that I was passionate about,” he says, “but now had the chance to do more strategic branding.”
He was promoted to account supervisor and then, in 2000, moved to Grey’s new sister shop, Alliance, as senior development director. Caruso says he was intrigued by its mission: the creation of unions between brands and entertainment. “It was the infancy of branded entertainment when it wasn’t even called that,” he says. Grey, he adds, was one of the first big agencies to recognize the importance of branding through nontraditional efforts. He made Grey his home for eight years before setting off on his own — though not before rounding out his tenure at Alliance as COO.
Crafting partnerships between brands and entertainment has its difficulties, says Caruso. Culturally, he notes, brands operate much differently from, say, a record label or a studio. “Creating ideas that bring the two together is always going to be challenging,” he says. “Getting both parties to see ‘the great idea’ and actually putting it into the market — and have it come off the way you envisioned it — is probably the most challenging and rewarding” part of the job.