Sean “Diddy” Combs bring his passion for success to Cîroc vodka
In October, Diageo and Sean “Diddy” Combs announced a deal that rocked the spirits industry. In an unparalleled strategic alliance, Combs would take the lead on all management decisions for Diageo’s Cîroc vodka brand in exchange for a 50 percent share in future profits. The deal could be worth more than $100 million for Combs . . . but for Diageo it’s priceless.
Sean “Diddy” Combs is the current millennium’s ideal version of a Renaissance man. In fact, he’s so multifaceted that when his name is mentioned, it’s sometimes hard to know exactly which Sean Combs is meant.
Bursting out of his hometown—Harlem, NYC—like a bolt of lightning in the 1990s, Sean Combs the Businessman got his foot in the recording industry door as an intern but quickly founded his own company, Bad Boy Entertainment. After establishing the careers of a growing roster of rap and hip-hop stars, Sean Combs the Deal Maker sold Bad Boy to Warner Music Group, staying on as CEO. Sean Combs the Producer has also pumped out recordings for megastars like Mary J. Blige and Aretha Franklin, to name only a couple.
All the while, Sean Combs the Entertainer was going through various sub-incarnations of his own. He’s been known successively as Puff Daddy, P. Diddy and now simply Diddy. Sean Combs the Role Model influenced not only urban African-American culture but was largely responsible for taking rap and hip-hop to a crossover audience of white suburban kids. Sean Combs the Populist never saw a barrier he didn’t want to break.
Then there’s Sean Combs the Fashion Designer. His enormously successful Sean John line of clothing for men, started in 1998, found immediate appeal among a previously ignored segment of young urban males, later earning Combs the Perry Ellis Award for Best Menswear Designer of the Year, the fashion industry’s equivalent of an Oscar. The brand has now spun off into sneakers and a duo of top-selling his-and-hers fragrances, Unforgivable and Unforgivable Woman. Sean Combs the Experimenter came up with the formulas for these in his own kitchen, finally settling on the right combination of scents after 665 batches.
Packaging the kind of sensuality found in fashion and fragrance—not to mention music—and purveying it as a lifestyle has become one of Combs’s signatures and the not-so-secret recipe for his success.
Sean Combs the Entrepreneur has been declared “one of the most influential businessmen in the world” by TIME magazine and CNN, and is currently being featured in a CNBC ad as one of America’s most dynamic business personalities. In 2003, Sean Combs the Philanthropist ran the New York City Marathon for charity, raising $2 million for children’s causes, and Sean Combs the Activist formed a “Vote or Die” campaign to register young voters. A year later, Sean Combs the Actor made his Broadway debut in a revival of the classic play Raisin in the Sun, to critical acclaim, and has also appeared in the films Made and Monster’s Ball. This month, Sean Combs the Celebrity is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Sean Combs the Brand Builder
In October of last year, Combs staked out a 50 percent chunk of the future of Cîroc vodka in a deal with Diageo that could net him an estimated $100 million over the next five years—the first deal of its kind in the industry, and one that will undoubtedly be talked about for a long time to come.
Diageo first launched Cîroc in 2003, and due to its unique qualities—it’s made from French grapes harvested late in the season, five-times distilled and cold-fermented, giving it a uniquely smooth character—received high marks from critics. But the brand has remained a niche player in the intensely competitive super-premium vodka category. The deal with Sean Combs should fix that. Combs has a Midas-like touch that most admirers agree comes not from greed, but simply from his passion for life and business, and from his personal involvement with the brands he owns or invests in. Having Sean Combs attached to a brand is like attaching a Saturn rocket to a 757.
The “Combs effect” was seen almost instantly when the alliance was introduced to distributors last September in Las Vegas. As Combs explained to them the nature of the agreement and the level of engagement that he personally was going to have with the brand, distributors called in orders from their tables to ensure they had stock going into the holidays.
Diageo, too, has responded to the “Combs effect”, putting more marketing weight behind the brand and resourcing a team in New York City to support it. One member of that team is Jacquie Lee. For Lee, Sean Combs and Cîroc are the perfect pairing, matched as well as a color-coordinated Sean John suit. “I’ve been around Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Puffy, and they’re all businessmen,” Lee asserts, “but when you talk about engaging with the public, nobody does it like Sean Combs.”
“When you talk about engaging with the public, nobody does it like Sean Combs.”
Master of Celebration
Combs is at liberty to take Cîroc as far as it will go. Sean Combs Enterprises will initiate all management decisions regarding the brand—which includes marketing, advertising, public relations, product placement and events—and he will share in the future growth of Cîroc on a 50/50 basis with Diageo. “The alliance is much more than a celebrity endorsement, as Sean will have day-to-day management responsibilities on the brand and will be responsible for the tone and direction of the Cîroc campaign,” says Chris Parsons, VP of Reserve for Diageo.
The campaign will focus on the Art of Celebration, as Sean Combs is clearly the Master of Celebration. Combs understands the sensual, celebratory nature of his new brand, and he fully intends to crank up the celebration factor wherever Cîroc is on the scene. “It's clean, seductive and sensual and has a fruit base to it, but it’s understated,” Combs once said; he was talking about his women’s fragrance, but he could just as easily have been talking about Cîroc.
A key element of the Art of Celebration campaign will be centered on social responsibility, or responsible drinking. As Combs likes to say, “Having too much to drink is not sexy.” Combs has already shot a webisode now airing on YouTube that addresses the issues of driving while intoxicated, as well as under-age drinking. “Sean has an ability to connect with an audience in a truly authentic way,” explains Jacquie Lee. “When Sean says that having too much to drink is not sexy, people get it. They think to themselves, ‘Yeah, that’s right—intoxicated people is not a good look.’”
As in the past, when it comes to Cîroc, Combs is all about breaking down barriers. “I didn't want to do the cliché thing and market Cîroc to the hip-hop community only,” says Combs. “I wanted to be colorblind and reach the trendsetter that’s looking for something different.”
With Cîroc, and entire Diageo organization behind him, Combs has found the perfect platform from which to drive his next great success. As Jacquie Lee reminds us, the name Cîroc comes from the French words cîme (summit) and roc (rock). “There can be little doubt that Sean will take us to the top of this mountain.”
THE DIDDY COCKTAIL
“You mix this up and trust me, you'll be all right.” —Sean Combs
2 oz. Cîroc vodka
1 oz. fresh lemonade
1 oz. pineapple juice
1 oz. cranberry juice
Stir all ingredients in a tall glass over ice. Garnish with a Maraschino cherry and a strip of lime zest. Suggested mood music: Diddy’s latest album, Press Play.