He Puts the Soda in Pop Songs. In the past two years, Adam Kluger has built a boutique product-placement agency that's become a cash conduit for the revenue-needy music business
Adam Kluger is in a hurry and this Ford Explorer won't get out of the way of his Bentley. He's driving north from Miami to a music video shoot in Fort Lauderdale featuring both his new recording artist and his corporate client. It's 3 p.m. The shoot doesn't start until after 4, but still. Kluger muscles his black coupé almost on top of the SUV's rear bumper. "The music industry's very laid back while I'm very, very aggressive," he says, clutching the wheel and his BlackBerry (RIMM) in a two-handed grip that lets him type and tailgate. He's 24, short, lean, and talks as fast as he's trying to drive. "I just need to get stuff done immediately."
In the past two years, Kluger has built a boutique agency that's become a conduit between the revenue-needy music business and a growing source of cash: consumer brands. Those who have seen the parade of products in Lady Gaga's Telephone video have gotten a taste of The Kluger Agency's work. With a check and Kluger's help, products end up in music videos, lyrics, even song titles. Kluger's newest project is managing a pop singer, an aspiring teen idol named JRandall. To build buzz, Kluger hired Grammy-winning singer T-Pain to appear in JRandall's video and sing a verse for the song, a dance track called Can't Sleep. Kluger's funding the music and video production both by the traditional method (with JRandall's label, Poe Boy Music Group) and with money from Zoosk, a dating website and one of his agency's clients. Singers have name-checked brands since before Janis Joplin asked the Lord to buy her a Mercedes-Benz. But the practice of advertisers paying for a mention in songs has exploded. "I get calls on country, rock 'n' roll—today it's across the board, in every genre of music," says Brooke Wilson, head of music entertainment at The Marketing Arm, an agency that deals in endorsements. This year she got State Farm's logo into a video by rock band OK Go. "It's really started happening in the past 5 to 7 years. It comes down to the labels not having enough money and needing other avenues to promote themselves." Kluger's specialty is bringing product placement to niche brands and fledgling artists, not just big products and stars.
Approaching Ft. Lauderdale as Can't Sleep blasts through the Bentley's 1,100-watt speakers, Kluger talks about replicating JRandall, who got a placement deal before he released his first album. He wants to build a record label based entirely on brand dollars. He wants to party with his pals in the Ford (F) Excursion stretch limo he just bought. There's so much to do, it hurts. "I call it my burning ambition," Kluger says, still riding the Explorer's exhaust pipe. "It literally pains me. Like, really pains me." Before the cars and the rock stars, Kluger grew up in Tampa, the distractible son of a jeweler father and a mother in the apparel business. While other students sat attentively in class, Kluger doodled business ideas. After school hours he bounced around fast-food jobs and sold knives door-to-door. Childhood pal Joel Cardieri remembers the few weeks Kluger worked behind the counter at a local Boston Market. "He'd say things like, 'I'm not going to be here long. Something's going to happen soon, I feel it!' " Kluger says he's always been obsessed with pop music. He recalls coming home from camp in 1999 with a song stuck in his head—Summer Girls, a bubblegum rap ditty with brand-conscious lyrics such as "I like girls that wear Abercrombie & Fitch." The song made him want to dance—and shop. "I was like, I gotta get Abercrombie & Fitch!" he says. In 2006, after attending a two-year college in Gainesville, he moved to Los Angeles and enrolled in a for-profit vocational school to learn how to make it in music. As he sat through classes on royalties and audio engineering, he got a sense of just how much the recording industry was suffering.
Beginning in early 2008, with no useful connections and a surplus of nerve, he started calling companies telling them he could place their brands in pop songs. Then he called the labels, telling them he could get brands to pay to be in their artists' songs. "There's a bit of bullsh-----g you have to do to get in the door," Kluger says.
In the summer of 2008, after "about 400" such calls, Kluger got a break. He reached the head of marketing for Interscope Records, Steve Berman, whom Kluger had heard of only because of his appearances on Eminem albums. (They had goofball skits where Berman would berate Eminem for recording vile, unmarketable music.) "Steve Berman said, 'I don't know about your company, I don't know about your brands, but I have a video,' " Kluger says. Beautiful, Dirty, Rich by a new artist named Lady Gaga, was going to shoot in just a few days. Twelve hours later, Kluger signed his first client, Vixen's Visions, a maker of lingerie and "sexy club wear." The resulting placement was near the end of the video as Gaga uses a Vixen's Visions shopping bag to dump cash on the floor. It was one second long. Kluger won't specify how much money changed hands in this or any ensuing deal, other than to say that his commission is up to 23 percent. According to clients, fees typically run between $40,000 and $250,000 per placement, depending on the artist. Getting a brand into song lyrics can fetch $500,000 and higher. (Berman did not return requests for comment; Vixen's Visions President Tony Paris Sr. says he's pleased with Kluger's work.)
Kluger quickly turned his Interscope relationship into a new deal. This time the product was Drank, a soft drink named after the slang term for a soda and codeine-cough-syrup concoction popular in the hip-hop scene. Multi-platinum superstar and Interscope artist Lil Wayne often rapped about the latter beverage. Kluger approached Drank founder Peter Bianchi about getting the non-narcotic Drank into music videos by Lil Wayne and other Interscope talent. Bianchi says he liked the idea and signed a multi-video contract. Kluger celebrated by taking a month-long cross-country trip from L.A. to Florida in a Mercedes SL500 convertible. He was so happy to be back with his old high school friends in Tampa, he decided to move his business to Miami, just a few hours' drive away. By April 2009, Kluger landed a Drank placement in the video for Sugar by Flo Rida. At the shoot, Kluger met Elric "E-Class" Prince, the chief executive of Poe Boy, Flo Rida's label. Prince had just received an object lesson in the power of product placement. The previous summer, Flo Rida had a smash hit, Low, which mentions Apple Bottom Jeans, Reebok, Cadillac, Rémy Martin and Hennessy cognacs, and Patrón tequila. Another hit, Forever, by R&B singer Chris Brown, had the line "Double your pleasure, double your fun," the old Wrigley's Doublemint gum jingle. Crucial difference: Brown had a multimillion-dollar endorsement deal with Wrigley; Flo Rida recited his favorite consumer goods gratis. "Never again," says Prince.-Bloomberg Business