Thursday, May 29, 2008

Usher: 'Cellphones are the future'

DSC_0044Sony (NYSE: SNE) Ericsson (NSDQ: ERIC) is making a big splash in New York City today with Usher, the Grammy Award-winning artist the mobile-phone maker has picked to market its Sony Ericsson’s Walkman music phones in the U.S., Canada and 20 European countries. “It’s the first big partnership in North America we’ve done,” said Karen Morris, VP of Marketing for Sony Ericsson North America. “Globally, we’ve done things with Justin Timberlake and Christina Aguilera. But this time, we have aligned it with the [U.S.] portfolio we are bringing to the marketplace, and Usher has such broad appeal.”

Usher discussed details of the partnership and made a surprise announcement this afternoon in New York, following yesterday’s release of Usher’s new album Here I Stand. Sony Ericsson is the title sponsor for Usher’s North American tour later this year, and the partnership will include access to exclusive content on Walkman phones, and contests, such as winning a chance to meet Usher on a video shoot, and getting VIP tickets for a concert. Fans will also be able to vote on what other band Usher will go on tour with, although Usher will have the final say. The content will be limited to one wallpaper on the phone right now, but will include ringtones and full-album downloads later this year, Morris said. Release.

Sony Ericsson had the No. 1 selling GSM handset in the country in March (the Sony Walkman w580), but generally is at a disadvantage in the U.S. since it doesn’t produce any CDMA phones, and among the top carriers, only works directly with AT&T (NYSE: T). Still, Morris said Sony Ericsson will be putting increased emphasis on the North American market, by bringing out a broad portfolio, including different form factors, different colors and a broad range of mid-tier to high-end phones. In August, the company expects to launch the first U.S. 3G Walkman slider called the w760. Around that time, it will also be launching the w350 flip phone, that will come out right in time for back-to-school through AT&T, which will be priced between $30 to $50 with a two-year contract. It probably doesn’t hurt that Usher uses the w350 in the first 20 seconds of his video for his hit single: “Love in This Club.”

Joseph adds: I couldn’t resist hopping over to find out what Usher’s surprise was going to be. It’s not much: basically he’s doing a show at The Apollo, which wasn’t announced until just this afternoon, and then besides that he’s, well, partnering with Sony Ericsson for a year. Content-wise, there’s not much more than what’s above: some exclusive ringtones, wallpapers, pictures, etc. This is the first deal of the sort for Sony Ericsson in North America. So why do the deal, Usher said: “Cellphones are the future… you can’t live life without ‘em.” That sounds about right.

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