A trio of bikini-clad models saunter onto the dance floor, giggling and chatting, as a makeup artist liberally rubs cocoa butter into their legs and arms. "We're all greased up like fried chicken!" quips one of the women. Once camera-ready, the girls perform seductive dance moves. It's a Friday afternoon in late January and the women are dancing in a mock music video on the set of Vitaminwater's first national print campaign, "Just 50," touting Formula 50—a grape-flavored beverage created by and named for 50 Cent—and featuring the rapper.
The ads, via the beverage marketer's creative agency, The Ad*itive, are being shot in the musician's sprawling, 26-bedroom mansion in Farmington, Conn. Although 50, aka Curtis Jackson, has lived in the three-story house for a year and a half, it still has a recently moved-in feel. The stained, pastel carpeting left over from former owner Mike Tyson (the racquetball court still has "Team Tyson" painted on the floor) is mixed with Jackson's touches, like the Gucci fabric that lines the walls in his game room and his state-of-the-art gym.
On the second day of the two-day production, photographer Gary Land—who has worked with Allen Iverson and Jackson for Reebok and also shot Jackson for his G-unit clothing line—is starting to get frustrated because it's nearly 2 p.m. and seven shoots must be completed by 8 p.m. Plus, there's no music for the girls to dance to and 50 Cent has not yet appeared on the set, a room with a dance floor, DJ booth and bar.
"There's no music here?" asks Land, incredulous that the 20 or so people on the set are unable to find the musician's sound system. His assistant photographer jokingly plays ring tones on his cell phone as Land belts out a verse of the disco tune "Shake Your Groove Thing" to the girls. "The more you ham it up, the better it's going to be!" shouts Land.
The idea behind using Jackson's actual abode is to show the rapper going about his daily routine, which includes drinking Vitaminwater. The ads show 50 "before the cameras role ... the Curtis Jackson side of 50 Cent," says Reginald Jolley, chief creative officer at The Ad*itive, an independent multicultural agency in Philadelphia, which won the account in November. "Vitaminwater has a quirky sense of humor.... We're marrying that to the personality of 50 Cent."
Suddenly Land gets his wish and 50 Cent's new single, "Candy Shop," booms out of enormous speakers scattered around the room. A few seconds later, the man himself appears. He gives hugs all around before taking his place in a chair in front of the dance floor, where he's supposed to be reading The Wall Street Journal with a Formula 50 in the foreground. He seems oblivious to the girls gyrating behind him. The headline on the ad will read, "No groupie love. Just 50."
"The headlines speak to things you would expect of 50 Cent," says Jolley.
Jackson then enters the racquetball court, which is set up to look like a fashion shoot, to pose while he's playing with a remote control car and drinking a Formula 50. The headline will read, "No lights and cameras. Just 50." After completing that shot, the rapper disappears again. "50's on the phone with LeBron James right now—so that's what's going on," says Land. Jackson eventually comes back, and after a half hour the shot is complete and everyone breaks for lunch.
In keeping with the campaign's strategy, Jackson says partnering with Vitaminwater is "not about my image, but my lifestyle. I need it to keep myself going."
"50 has been a fan of Vitaminwater for some time," notes Rohan Oza, senior vice president of marketing at Glacéau-owned Vitaminwater in Whitestone, NY. "We first saw this when he was drinking it in a Reebok commercial, so we got together to discuss a partnership."
The company's 50 Cent campaign is in sharp contrast to its previous ad effort, which broke last summer and consisted of a series of outdoor ads featuring a different Vitaminwater flavor (there are 13 in all) and a racy cartoon. The new campaign, set to break March 1, will be in black and white with only the Vitaminwater bottle in color, and each ad will have three shots of Jackson and look like the label of a Vitaminwater bottle. The ads target urban young adults and will run in music-focused national magazines.
After lunch, the shoot moves outside, where Jackson's Jack Russell Terrier, Soldier, will have a starring role. In the ad, Jackson will be shown stepping outside his front door to pick up the mail with Soldier clutched under one arm. This shot is delayed too, however, when Jackson tries on the black terry bathrobe he's supposed to wear but it's too short.
Meanwhile, Soldier is brought downstairs by 50 and his grubby collar is swapped for a silver chain with a large diamond cross. Feeling generous and explaining that he doesn't have a lot of time for Soldier, 50 gives Land his dog to keep. Land, an animal lover, is ecstatic but remarks, "Does he come with the collar?"