Has the shine worn off the Sean “P. Diddy” Combs brand? In 2008, Combs ranked 33 with an estimated net worth of $35 million on Forbes list of Top 100 Celebrities. In 2009, he dropped to 68, with a net worth of $30 million.
On the surface, it would seem that the Diddy Brand, which includes Bad Boy Records; the clothing line Sean John (which was founded in 1998 by Combs and supermarket mogul Ron Burkle); a movie production company; a top-selling fragrance (Unforgivable) and a vodka brand (CÎROC), is doing well. But as of late, sales for Bad Boy Records (co-owned by Warner Music Group), which in the early 1990´s was responsible for over $100 million in total record sales, have been waning. The Justin´s restaurant chain (New York and Atlanta) was shut down in 2007 after 10 years, and Combs announced that this month he will close the flagship store for his clothing line, Sean John. The store, on New York’s tony Fifth Avenue, has had poor sales since the opening in 2004.
But urban culture expert Jacqueline Rhinehart, says don´t count Combs–or America´s taste for All Things Hip Hop–out just yet. “I don’t believe that the store’s closing or the restaurant’s closing is an indication of the brand’s descent. It is probably a purely financial decision that will leave him more liquid. These are lean times for all brands,” she says. “I do believe it signals a need for Combs to reorganize his priorities and reposition his brand. His singular signatures (his fragrance, fashion and vodka brands) are still very strong.”
In fact, the closing of the Sean John store comes on the heels of Combs’s mega deal with Macy’s. Combs partnered with Macy’s in an arrangement under which the retail chain will be the exclusive U.S. department store retailer for the Sean John men’s sportswear collection beginning in spring 2011. And the Unforgivable fragrance, which operates under a partnership with Estee Lauder, is still a top seller. In 2006, it raked in $74.9 million. And in 2009 Combs introduced a new scent called I Am King, which industry experts say could earn $100 million globally in its first year.
According to Rhinehart, there are still many avenues for Combs to develop his brand even further. “He has yet to do a branding campaign that would bring all his product extensions under one iconic image…a la “The Oprah Effect” or the “Martha Stewart Empire,” she points out.” “Urban music influence is only evolving. Hip-hop culture is still strong, and the hip-hop emissaries are in the nooks and crannies of Middle America. Shrewd advertisers/marketers know how to tap into America´s craving for the latest hip-hop brand. And Combs has been a master marketer, starting from the early days of Bad Boy when he not only hit the streets, literally, to promote the artists of Bad Boy Records, but the Bad Boy brand itself. Soon the public latched on to not only the music of Bad Boy but also, the style and culture.
Being one of the first hip-hop entrepreneurs, Rhinehart says, Combs will continue to pave the way for others—in terms of business and creativity.