T-Mobile hitches brand to Shakira in hopes of drawing Latino market

Sue Marek

NEW YORK--The spending power of the growing U.S. Latino population has not been lost on wireless operators--particularly T-Mobile US (NYSE:TMUS), which last night kicked off its new multi-year partnership with Shakira, the Grammy-winning singer from South America, by hosting a free concert in New York City's Bryant Park.

The concert drew an estimated crowd of 7,500 T-Mobile customers and die-hard Shakira fans to the park, which was outlined with trees filled with T-Mobile's signature Magenta-colored lights, casting a festive glow to the skyline.

T-Mobile CMO Mike Sievert, who was instrumental in negotiating the deal with Shakira, said that a big part of her appeal is her vast social media network--she boasts more than 22 million Twitter followers. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Details of the partnership are still a little vague. Shakira will appear in ads for T-Mobile products and services, but the company also said it will help raise awareness for her primary charity, The Barefoot Foundation, which helps build schools for communities in Latin America. T-Mobile said more about the partnership will be announced in the near future.

T-Mobile is certainly hoping Shakira will help it capture the growing Latino market, which was estimated to have about $1.2 trillion in purchasing power in 2012. But T-Mobile isn't alone in targeting this market: Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) last May also announced a plan to go after the Latino market, albeit in a much more indirect way. The company teamed with actress and singer Jennifer Lopez to create Viva Móvil, an authorized Verizon Wireless (NYSE:VZ) reseller. Viva, which sells wireless phones and services to the Latino market, currently has a goal of launching 15 brick-and-mortar stores nationwide by year-end. It also has an online storefront.

However, unlike T-Mobile, which is probably spending millions of dollars to leverage Shakira's brand appeal, Verizon has no monetary involvement in Viva Móvil; Lopez is the majority shareholder.

But T-Mobile has a history of spending big bucks on famous spokespeople. In 2002, in conjunction with the launch of the T-Mobile brand in the United States, the company started working with actress Catherine Zeta-Jones. The two initiated a brand campaign that was based on the slogan "Get More" and emphasized features the smaller carrier was trying to use to differentiate itself from its competitors.

The partnership with Zeta Jones came to an end in the fall of 2006 when T-Mobile phased her out in favor of a more "everyman" approach to its advertising. According to CBS News, the actress was paid $20 million as part of two contracts with the carrier.

But rest assured that T-Mobile's deal with Shakira does not mean the end of Carly Foulkes, the carrier's current spokeswoman who has often appeared in pink dresses (later clarified to be "Magenta," T-Mobile's corporate color), and has helped highlight the company's phones, low prices and network speeds. A T-Mobile PR rep said that Carly remains under contract with T-Mobile and they will use her again in the future.

Perhaps Carly will re-appear when T-Mobile is ready to make its next "fastest network" claim. T-Mobile CEO John Legere hinted last night that the carrier's fastest network claim will be coming sooner rather than later. --Sue