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UCLA

Rebel State: Emotional Branding

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By T. L. Stanley

Published Jun 5, 2009 9:20 AM


Josh Levine '93 has always been fascinated by the deep emotional connection that fans have with their favorite bands and musical artists. He saw it first-hand as an intern for Motown Records and later as an event promoter and talent manager. He studied it as a journalist for hip-hop magazines like Vibe, The Source and URB.

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Josh Levine.

And he wondered if everyday brands could foster that same kind of devotion. What would it take to make people fall madly in love with — and sing the praises of — a car, computer, movie or cell phone to anyone who'd listen?

From that question sprang Rebel Industries, Levine's Los Angeles-based marketing firm that specializes in grassroots programs that puts its clients nose-to-nose with the people they want to speak to most.

"There's so much yelling and screaming in marketing today," says Levine. "So when someone comes up and whispers in your ear, you're more likely to hear that. Especially if it's something you're really interested in."

Levine's clients include Dr Pepper, Red Bull, Absolut, Reebok and Microsoft. Rebel Industries also helped launch Scion, the hot-out-of-the-gate Toyota nameplate, with monthly nightclub parties, an art gallery tour, a record label and a film festival. The company gathered high-profile DJs to consult on Scion's audio system, to give it just the right amount of kicking bass.

Each marketing program is tailored to the client and its target, like Dr Pepper's multi-tentacled sponsorship of a national videogame tournament that draws hordes of young male gamer geeks to a Dr Pepper lounge. There, they get free soda, photos with the comely Dr Pepper Girls and chances to see their favorite pro players up close and personal.

Then there was the ultra-high-end, invitation-only soiree for 200 local movers and shakers Levine threw recently at a $32 million mansion in Bel Air. The bash boosted clients Northwestern Mutual, Lamborghini, real estate firm Hilton & Hyland, jeweler Philip Press and builder David Houck of Houck Inc. While strolling through the Tuscan villa, which was on the market, partygoers could ogle (and test drive) a variety of exotic and one-of-a-kind Lamborghinis, nibble on caviar, try on expensive baubles and talk about ways to brace against the recession.

The event wasn't intended to be a hard sell for any of the products on display, says Curtis Estes, financial rep at Northwestern Mutual. Rather, it was supposed to show what it's like to live life to the fullest, even in these rough economic times. Estes remembers hearing that Levine was "the guy to go to when you want an extraordinary, unforgettable event pulled off flawlessly on a shoestring budget. That turned out to be absolutely true."

Estes says the event cost him about what it would have for a formal dinner party for 12 and resulted in $300,000 in potential business for his company in a week's time. Not incidentally, there was a serious inquiry on the villa and, equally important to the hosts and Levine, a sense of community beginning to gel with the attendees.

Levine, a San Francisco native, lives in Brentwood to be close to UCLA, where he's actively involved in the Alumni Association. He and his wife Christie's house is jam packed with animals — two dogs, two tortoises, a bunny and a pair of rats — and soon their first child. So, that opens up a whole new area of interest.

Baby Bjorn set, meet Rebel Industries.

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