For Monster Cable, Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine are tough acts to follow.
Now that its contract with Beats Electronics to manufacture Dre-branded headphones has officially dissolved, Monster must look elsewhere to drive sales.
To help carry the flag, Monster has recruited several big names to be its brand ambassadors, including Sheila E, Sugar Ray Leonard, Xzibit, Nick Cannon and Tyson Beckford - all of whom appeared on stage with Monster Chief Executive Noel Lee at the company's press conference at this week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
The press event looked little like a tech demo and more like a Milan fashion show, complete with leggy models strutting down the middle aisle of the conference room wearing Monster products. Though Lee talked about "pure monster sound" quality, much of the 50-minute-event was spent on how the headphones looked.
Monster Rolls out red carpet for celebrity brand endorsers at its CES event. From left: Xzibit, Chris Erb, EA Sports Vice President of Marketing, actor Nick Cannon, moswl, XROE Tyson Beckford, Boxer Sugar Ray Leonard, Sheila E. and Andrea Giacomelli, world licensing director, Diesel. (Photo: Alex Pham)
For Monster, pouring on the glam wasn't just about filling the marketing void left by Beats. Each celebrity was selected to target a different demographic, Lee explained in an interview after the event. Just as Beats zoomed in on the urban, hip-hop crowd, Monster wants to carve other market segments - gamers, kids, sports enthusiasts, business travelers, budget-conscious families and women.
Monster turned to rapper Xzibit and boxing champion Sugar Ray Leonard to appeal to sports and gaming enthusiasts with its T1 headphones, designed for surround-sound video game sound effects and cinematic soundtracks. Recording artist Sheila E is associated with company's Diamond Tears line of premium fashion headphones. Actor Nick Cannon speaks to urban kids who may want to buy Monster's value-priced headphones sold at Wal-Mart stores. The list goes on.
"We're each going our own way, following our own vision," Lee said in an interview about life after Beats. "Beats owns the urban hip-hop demo. We want to take that model to sports, gaming, youth and other segments. This is different than what Beats is doing."
Lee, whose family owns 100% of Monster, is an engineer by training, having earned a masters degree in mechanical engineering at California Polytechnic State University. After he worked six years as a laser fusion scientist at Lawrence-Livermore Laboratory, Lee founded Monster in 1979 and became a marketer in his own right, selling premium-priced cables in anotherwise commoditized market.
He repeated the feat with Beats. Thanks in large part to Dre and Iovine's celebrity marketing prowess, the three created a vibrant, premium-priced headphone category within a largely commoditized market. Last year, Monster was the largest manufacturer in the $754 million U.S. market for headphones priced $100 and above.
The 63-year-old executive acknowledged that half of his company's revenue last year came from the Beats brand. Because Monster is privately held, it does not disclose its financials.
"That's why we have to step it up this year with our new brand efforts," Lee said.