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Marketing pro Pitbull now bound for Alaska

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Pitbull kicks off another world tour this weekend with a show on Chicago's lakefront. Three days after that, though, "Mr. Worldwide" has an engagement up north.

Waaaaay up north.

As the result of a hijacked marketing event, Pitbull -- a k a Armando Christian Perez, the "Give Me Everything" rapper who's from Miami, raps about Miami, practically exudes Miami humidity -- will be making a promotional appearance July 30 in Kodiak, Alaska.

PITBULL
• 7:30 p.m. July 27
• Charter One Pavilion, 1300 S. Lynn White Dr. on Northerly Island
• Tickets, $35-$150; (800) 745-3000; ticketmaster.com

Over the last few weeks, Wal-Mart has been running a contest on its Facebook page. The store that received the most "likes" would win a personal appearance from Pitbull.

A writer for The Boston Phoenix newspaper thought it would be funny to send Pitbull to the most remote Wal-Mart possible, and encouraged people to "like" the Wal-Mart in Kodiak, population just over 6,000. (On Twitter, the counter-campaign translated into the hashtag #ExilePitbull.)

It worked, with the Aleut island store getting more than 70,000 "likes."

"It's got to be the smallest Wal-Mart in the chain," Janet Buckingham, head of Kodiak's Conventions and Visitors Bureau, told the Miami Herald. "We're hoping he'll agree to perform."

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sarah Spencer said details of the trip are still being worked out.

"It's going to be gigantic," Buckingham said. "We had [folk singer] Suzanne Vega in concert once. She did it in the high school gym, which has 600 seats."

Pitbull addressed the contest results in a YouTube video, saying: "I heard that Kodiak, Alaska, has the most likes due to someone that thinks he was playing a prank. But you've got to understand, I will go anywhere in the world for my fans."

Fans, maybe. What Pitbull is really beholden to, though, are his brands.

Renting himself out as a shill for a wide variety of products -- including Sheets Energy Strips, Kodak, Dr Pepper, Zumba Fitness and Bud Light, plus his own signature Voli Light Vodka -- Pitbull has risen to worldwide fame well above his reggaeton peers thanks in part to relentless commercial exposure. In a diversified, decentralized music business (and within a genre well-known for artists hawking products, particularly alcohol), Pitbull found the route to riches not through album sales or concert tickets but through branding.

Last year, Pitbull's $6 million income was No. 17 on a list of top hip-hop earners. The Kodak deal alone was reported to be seven figures.

Pitbull doesn't just pose next to a product for a magazine ad, though. He brings the commercial messages directly into his music. Numerous songs celebrate not just a party lifestyle but specific patterns of consumption he's paid to promote, such as "Give Me Everything" (first lyric: "Me not working hard? / Yeah, right! Picture that with a Kodak / Or, better yet, go to Times Square / Take a picture of me with a Kodak"). The song "Vida 23," included on his Spanish-language album "Armando," was written especially for a Dr Pepper campaign (first lyric: "Let's enjoy the flavor of life").

In the first 30 seconds of the video for "Give Me Everything," Pitbull pours from a Voli bottle, the label clearly visible and in focus. Likewise, in the beginning of the "Rain Over Me" video, a Voli bottle is spotlighted sitting in the desert ... for some reason.

He's certainly upfront about his mercenary musical approach:

• "This is called the music business. It's 90 percent business, 10 percent talent," he told Billboard magazine. "There is no genius to what I do."

• "Hip-hop right now, it's commercial," Pitbull said in another magazine interview. "It's not what it used to be but, you know, you gotta be a businessman . . . you gotta go get this money."

• He outlined his four-year plan to GQ magazine: "2009 was freedom, 2010 was invasion, 2011 was takeover and 2012 is grow wealth."

Pitbull's public endorsements of products seem to have little to do with his actual tastes. While pushing Voli vodka and signing up Bud Light for concert sponsorship, the Smoking Gun found that his tour rider actually requires promoters to stock his backstage dressing rooms with a case of Corona beer and three bottles of Ketel One vodka.

Regardless, the shillin' don't stop. Combining his department store chain contract and his vodka deal, Pitbull will appear at a meet-and-greet event before the concert -- hawking his vodka at a Walgreens. Hear the music "by a featured Voli DJ" and sample cocktails created "by the Voli mixologist" from 4 to 5 p.m. at Walgreens, 151 N. State. (21+over).

During the Walmart contest, Pitbull tweeted: "I hear there's bear repellant at Kodiak, Alaska @walmartspecials."

Can't wait to hear how he works that into a song.

Contributing: AP



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Thomas Conner

Thomas Conner covers pop music for the Chicago Sun-Times. Contact him via e-mail.

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