One of the most valuable marketing lesson I ever learned, was from a drug-dealer turned rapper who wore a bullet-proof vest onstage, after having been shot nine times and left for dead.
One of the bullets took a chunk out of his tongue so he spoke with a slight impediment. But that didn’t keep him from making millions with his voice.
But his voice wasn’t even his real cash cow. It wasn’t the key to his wealth. It wasn’t the words, or the music, or the beats, or the records.
50 Cent was famous for his image. He was famous for what he portrayed.
A thug. A baller. A gangster. A millionaire.
The money was in the persona.
And I know this to be true, because I got to see it firsthand.
I was initially excited to find out that 50 Cent was coming by the studio for an interview. At the time, he was the biggest act in the world and I was eager to interview him.
A few of the people in the sales department caught wind of his arrival and brought their kids by to meet him as well. (Because that’s the kind of role model you want for your clildren. Sales people. SMH.)
About 15 minutes before his arrival, the record rep for 50 Cent’s label came into the studio with three of the biggest dudes I’d ever seen. They were dressed in black. They looked mad. I’m pretty sure each of them was carrying at least one loaded gun.
Apparently they were doing some kind of security sweep.
They checked every inch of the studio and eyed everyone who was in it to seek out potential threats.
Clearly, we were the least threatening group of white people they had ever seen, because they didn’t stay long.
Two of them left and the third took his place by the door. Just standing there, as a human barrier, I assumed, you know, in case “S#!t went down!”
He was wearing white from head to toe.
He had a white rag on his head and a white hat over it.
And diamonds. Diamonds everywhere.
His neck, his watch, his belt buckle were all encrusted with diamonds.
He had a large posse with him too. A couple of girls, a few other dudes with cell phones…
I remember this one kid who walked around with a cooler of Vitamin Water. 50 Cent recently invested in Vitamin Water, so this kid just walked around handing it out to everybody…whether they wanted it or not.
But the one thing that caught me off guard, the thing that I remember the most was his smile.
It was so freakin’ huge!
It was the last thing I expected to see.
The records and the album covers and the photo shoots all portrayed him as a hardened criminal who was cold and tough from a life on the streets.
But he was grinning ear-to-ear and high-fiving people, and even hugging!
It was not what I expected at all.
He greeted the kids, smiled, signed their CDs, and told them to stay in school and study hard. (What?)
One of the Sales Parents grabbed her camera and asked,
“Can we get a picture?”
The smile disappeared. It was totally gone without a trace.
In it’s place was a scowl – an angry mean scowl that seemed to say, “Don’t F— with me or I’ll pop a cap in yo A$$!”
When the picture was over, the smile returned.
It happened over and over. Behind the scenes 50 Cent was everybody’s friend. Hanging out, laughing and smiling, handing out all the Vitamin Water we could drink.
In front of the camera, it was all business.
Sometimes he would make his fingers into the shape of a gun and point it at the lens. Sometimes he would show his teeth like a lion or a tiger does to intimidate his pray.
His eyebrows would always turn inward to show superiority, and his mouth never cracked a grin.
Not until it was over.
50 Cent knew his brand. And he protected it.
He knew what he was selling and he knew what his customers wanted to buy.
So when the cameras came on, so did the scowl.
50 Cent was a gangster. Period. And every single image had to portray that.
I have shared this story on stages around the world, and I have told it in small coaching groups and masterminds, and I have even shared it one-on-one with my media and marketing clients.
Because it is the single most powerful marketing lesson I have ever learned.
Sell a product that people want. Create a brand that people can relate to. Protect it at all costs.
Every successful celebrity has a persona.
So does every successful entrepreneur.
PS: I’m “the funny guy.” When I’m on the radio, the stage, or shooting videos at my house…everything I do has to fit my personal brand which is “funny.”
Being funny is how I was able to sell NOTHING online for $20 a pop.