The Digital Skeptic: Will.i.am Brands Show Just How Hard It Is To Get Paid
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Andrew Smits is a big fan of Will.i.am. But when it comes to the gadgets the musician-slash-entrepreneur is spinning up, we agree they probably "Will.not.work."
"The youth market is not the wide open blue water people think it is," Smits told me a few weeks back over drinks and finger food.
Smits is no idle fan boy. He's creative director of Concept 73 , a San Clemente, Calif.-based marketing agency with serious chops selling action brands such as Rip Curl , Simple Mobile and Vans to kids.
He and I were at an industry confab trying to get our brains around how celebs such as Will.i.am., the Black Eyed Peas producer and early collaborator on the Beats by Dre line of headphones, are swimming into ever-odder consumer electronics waters.
Late last year Will.i.am rolled out what had to be the oddest device of recent memory: a clip-on smartphone camera lens case called the foto.sosho. The unit is designed, built and wholesaled by Will.i.am -- or William Adams, as he is known to his parents and the IRS. And it slots over an iPhone to extend its imaging features. High-end U.K. retailer Selfridges & Co. retails it for a stout roughly U.S. $480. Wider global release is expected later in 2013.
And no question, Mr. Adams is a legit master in cross-platform media jujitsu needed to get such a device off the ground.
"I travel a lot. I'm sponging all the time. I am a 'popthroplogist,'" he joked during the International Consumer Electronics Show as he explained his vision of entrepreneurship on stage during an event at the Las Vegas Hilton.
Back in 2003, he got it that the Black Eyed Peas track Hey Mama was hotter tied to a hip iPod commercial than as mere music on radio or the Web. He was early to leverage music's brand power to spin up electronics brands such as Beats by Dre, which sold to recently to HTC for $300 million. Will.i.am evens sells his insights to the Fortune 1000. Intel (INTC) , Dell (DELL) and Coca-Cola (KO) take serious bets based Will.i.am's advice. Witness Coke's launch of the Ekocycle brand , which supports products made from recycled material. Fortune magazine went so far as to plop Will.i.am on its January cover as "Corporate America's Hit Machine."
"Starting up a product was easier than I thought," he told the crowd.
That all may be true. But one does not need to be a new-media Will.i.am to see the chance that an iPhone add-on -- or the larger trend of betting on said celebrities as gadget rainmakers -- making any real money is almost incomprehensibly small.
"Will.i.am is definitely a success story in making money in the music business," Smits said. "But selling pricey iPhone parts, that's going to be a challenge."