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NEW YORK (Billboard) - As sales of recorded music plummet, extending a music act's brand into a variety of endeavors provides an alternative means to generate income and broaden the potential audience for its music.
But what happens when it's unclear what that brand represents?
It's a question that comes to mind when you consider the recent success of Danity Kane.
The quintet was put together during MTV's "Making the Band 3," a reality show premised on Sean "Diddy" Combs finding the next big thing.
The act's August 2006 self-titled debut album bowed at the top of the Billboard 200 and went on to be certified platinum for U.S. shipments in excess of one million units.
Danity Kane's second album on Bad Boy, "Welcome to the Dollhouse," has sold 529,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The lead single "Damaged" reached the top 10 of the Billboard Hot 100 earlier this year, and recently received a pair of MTV Video Music Award nominations.
Along the way the group has released a line of denim jeans through apparel maker Dollhouse, been named the latest face of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' (PETA) long-running "I'd Rather Go Naked Than Wear Fur" advertising campaign and will have its own branded Visa debit card this fall.
Danity Kane member Aubrey O'Day is performing on Broadway in the musical "Hairspray," while bandmate Dawn Richard is working with an illustrator to release a comic book this fall. The group is tentatively set to go into the studio in October to record an album that will come out next summer. In addition, it has plans for fragrance and makeup lines and gets an occasional mention in the New York Post's Page Six gossip column.
Danity Kane most closely resembles the Pussycat Dolls, a dance troupe turned musical group that has extended its brand into reality TV and product endorsements. "They're not as big as the Pussycat Dolls, but they're doing all the right steps to get there," Bad Boy co-owner/president Harve Pierre says.
But where, exactly, is "there?" Even Pierre acknowledges that "Danity Kane was made via a reality show, and they owe it all to the marketing genius of Diddy."
As reality show stars, the members of Danity Kane -- or the "girls," as they are referred to by their handlers -- remain at a midtier level of celebrity, without the deeper connection to fans that many lesser-selling acts have cultivated through the years.
And when it comes to celebrity, says Tina Wells, CEO of New Jersey-based Buzz Marketing Group, you're either A-list or you don't count.
"I feel like we have celebrities and everybody else," Wells says. "What is the true value for everyone else?"
Wells says the trajectory of reality stars tends to follow a prescribed path. "What publicity circuit can they hit?" she asks. "There's the gossip columns, tabloids and hot blogs, which generate a lot of impressions, but it goes back to who you are as a brand. If you are looking for just an instant spark, it makes sense, but not if you're looking for long-term association."
What does Danity Kane's manager J. Irving III make of Wells' observations? "One thing that makes brands credible are those brands that are along for the ride," Irving says. "Anyone can jump on the Brad Pitt gravy train, he's 40-something years old. Imagine a brand that was with him 20 years ago. They would be a part of his success now."
For their part, brand marketers say Danity Kane can help them appeal to a wide audience.
"The thing we love about Danity Kane is they speak to a broad base," says Danny Klein, president/chief marketing officer at Plastic Cash International, which will be putting out the Visa debit card with Danity Kane's image. "They're multicultural and have great exposure."
PETA director of media relations Michael V. McGraw says the Danity Kane ad campaign will "allow PETA to reach a completely new demographic."
For Irving, marketer interest in Danity Kane illustrates the group's continued viability as a brand.
"Danity Kane's success will beget their success," he says.