Sean "Diddy" Combs has always been a hip-hop marketing pioneer, extending his brand into fashion in the late '90s and top-shelf liquors in recent years. Since 2009, he's helped Diageo's Ciroc vodka go from 40,000 cases sold annually to 2 million. And now other musical artists such as Jay-Z and Nicki Minaj want a piece of the action. So Combs this year has upped the ante, expanding his relationship with Diageo to a DeLeón Tequila deal and overseeing a "Step Into the Circle" rebrand for Ciroc, with TV, digital and out of home going live this week.
The music mogul spoke with Adweek about what we should expect from the campaign.
What’s at the heart of the rebrand?
You are in a circle of friends, you are in a circle of people that you trust, unplugging, cherishing those times. I wanted to remind people of those times and what’s important about that inner circle.
How does the message differ from the last initiative, "Luck Be a Lady"?
It's more down-to- earth, it's more true to reality, and it's millennial-driven. It's aspirational, celebratory and inclusive for that generation. It was a good, strategic move and easy to make—because you feel emotion with this spot. It's a simple statement from "me" to "we."
Are there co-stars like the prior spot when you had Aaron Paul, Michael K. Williams and Chrissy Teigen?
You'll see some of my friends that I roll with, [record producer] Jermaine Dupri, who I grew up with, and [rapper] French Montana. The other people are not people that you'd know, but they are my friends. It's about reality.
How big of a role does your musical vision play in the campaign?
It goes down to the edits, to what everyone is wearing, to every detail. I am totally involved and very specific about it.
Hip-hop artists have aligned with spirit brands in recent years. Why is it a good marketing match?
The people at Ciroc and I didn't look at ourselves as, you know, "We are combining hip-hop with a liquor brand." So I don't really know how to answer that question [outside] that when I came to Ciroc, I came from the hip-hop community. I think people try to simply put it in a box like that. But that's not what happened. I don't care if you are into rock 'n' roll or dance music or are the biggest act in the world. A regular celebrity cannot get you to that—to what we've done. A person with a great idea or a team with a great idea gets you to 2 million cases.
Is it different operating with Diageo compared to working on the brands you've created?
I am actually used to dealing with these big public companies. It's like a family, and that’s the way it's been with Diageo. But it's give-and-take. You learn, and you teach. At the end of the day, you hold hands, and it's about the bottom line. Every campaign, we get closer to finding our true voice. [Ciroc] is like a really talented protégé. We are very good at what we do, but everyday we get better.
Your part with Ciroc seems bigger than spokesman—you appear to be more of a brand leader. What strengths do you bring to that role that other people cannot?
I don't compare myself to anybody. I am that blend of art and commerce. So I pay attention to the business needs, the sensitivities of my partners and how to manage budgets, how to market a great product. But at the same time, I know how to use marketing and entertainment. I enjoy that creative process because it lets me go into that artistic side, not the celebrity side, that's in me.