Jay-Z and HP, Beyonce and Samsung: Meet the Man Who Pairs Celebs With Brands

PHOTO: Nas, Steve Stoute and Jay-Z attend Nas 38th birthday, Sept. 14, 2011 in New York City.
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It's no secret: Star power sells.

Whether it's Justin Timberlake loving fast food, Beyonce on her cell phone or Lebron James and insurance -- big stars mean big bucks for corporations.

But in today's media-saturated world, matching a celebrity to a brand is a fine art. The Michelangelo of that art is Steve Stoute, 40, a former music executive and manager who runs an advertising agency that specializes in pairing celebrities with advertisers.

Witness the parade of A-list celebs who turned out for a recent party in his honor. There was Jay-Z -- the party's host -- whom Stoute paired with Hewlett-Packard. There were Knicks star Carmelo Anthony, Serena Williams and Sean "Diddy" Combs.

If you haven't heard of Stoute, you've seen his influence. Thanks to him and what he calls the "tanning of America" -- the title of his recently published book -- hip-hop stars are now mass-culture status symbols and style arbiters, curators of cool who can sell products to consumers of all backgrounds.

The book title describes the embrace of hip-hop and its black culture by whites. Stoute noticed it in the mid-1990s, soon after it began to take hold. He saw all the white faces at hip-hop concerts and the almost-colorblind impact urban music stars were having on the coveted youth market.

"It was an amazing thing to see," Stoute said in an interview with "Nightline." "Why are they dyeing their hair like J Lo? Why are they dressing like Sean "P Diddy" Combs? Because they wanted the brand."

When the movie "Men in Black" came out, in 1997, Will Smith's character said, "I make these look good," referring to his Ray-Ban Predator 2 sunglasses. The sunglasses became hugely popular.

"Everyone thought it was a phenomenon: 'I can't believe this,' and, 'What a coincidence,'" Stoute said.

Stoute's reaction was, "If they think that is a coincidence, wait until I get into that business, because I know I can make product here too. If you put the product in close proximity with something that is driving pop culture in a way that people believe it, you can sell a lot of product."

So at 34, he gambled on his future, setting out to help corporate America learn the influential language of hip-hop. He founded an ad agency with the fitting name, Translation.

A big break came when McDonald's hired him to make its new "I'm Lovin' It" campaign and slogan stick in pop culture.

"I went to Justin Timberlake, and I thought that he'd be great because he was one of the great artists of the music business," Stoute said. "Black girls, white girls, Latino girls and men, as well, looked at him -- and no one looked at color."

The campaign became one of McDonald's longest-running ads.

Wrigley hired Stoute to update the image of Doublemint gum.

"The only thing I remembered about Doublemint growing up was [that] it had, 'Double your pleasure, double your fun,'" Stoute said. "And I was like, 'Wow, those aren't real words. How can we make those real words?'"

"So I created a song called 'Forever,'" he said, "gave it to this young artist called Chris Brown and 'Forever' went on to become number one in 12 countries around the world."

Five months later, it was revealed to have originated as a song for Doublemint.

Now, six years later, the kid from Queens is a wealthy ad man whose insights and connections have landed him in the hottest social and professional circles. He attracts people not normally seen together: athletes, music moguls and CEOs of big corporations.

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