How UTA transformed Karol G from pop star to brand star

Karol G music video with Karol G  looking out a car window

The agency elevated Karol G’s career through authentic brand partnerships with Urban Decay, Smirnoff and Xbox.

The Latin music industry is dominated by men — Daddy Yankee, Bad Bunny and J Balvin — but Karol G has solidified her status as a Latin music sensation in the last few years. 

The Columbian singer first began releasing music in 2007, but it wasn’t until 10 years later that she released her first album, Unstoppable. Since then, she has collaborated with artists like J Balvin and Nicki Minaj, remained on the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart for 25 weeks and received four Latin Grammy nominations.

Karol G’s success allowed for a natural transition into brand sponsorships, guided by Melissa Newhart, who oversees UTA Marketing’s East Coast music brand partnerships business. Newhart wanted to catapult Karol G’s visibility, taking her from an emerging artist into the mainstream. 

“Karol didn't take any shortcuts to get where she is,” Newhart told Campaign US. “She's an artist that has put in a lot of work, effort and dedication to her craft. When she got on my radar, I went back to the larger team at UTA and said, ‘This is something we should be paying attention to and supporting because I think she's significant, not just from an artist perspective, but she’s somebody significant in terms of breaking down barriers in the world for other female artists.’”

When looking for brand partners, UTA leaned into Karol G’s ability to be a “larger than life superstar” while connecting with fans on a personal level.

Urban Decay’s “Pretty Different” campaign, which celebrates individuality, was Karol G’s first global partnership. In 2019, the Latin music sensation starred alongside Lizzo, Joey King, Ezra Miller and more celebrities in a spot for the campaign. Her character in the spot is a “badass female,” which gave the singer an outlet to express herself creatively, said Newhart. 

The Urban Decay partnership put Karol G on the map as she was emerging onto the artist scene. The campaign opened doors for her to work with even more brands on a global scale.

But UTA had to be strategic about which brands would be the best fit.

“We wanted to make sure they’re not just working with her to say they're diversifying their portfolio or because they want to reach a more multicultural audience,” said Newhart. “We want to help brands understand that Karol is not just a Latin American superstar or a reggaeton superstar, but she's a global female superstar.”

Following that strategy, UTA brokered a deal for Karol G to become Smirnoff’s spokesperson, starring in the liquor brand’s new campaign “Sabor for the People.” The campaign features Smirnoff’s Poco Pico Seltzer variety pack and Smirnoff Spicy Tamarind products with Día de Los Muertos-inspired cans, and includes Karol G’s first TV commercial, as well as in-store, out of home and digital marketing collateral.

Karol G took a hands-on approach to filming, playing a role in choosing the videographer, the photographer, the set, the locations and more. 

Smirnoff also teamed up with Karol G for the Bichota Tour, her first headlining US tour, which will include Smirnoff activations for fans at select stops.

The vodka brand looks for partners who are “game changers in their respective industry,” and who will be “innovative and disruptive,” said Jay Sethi, CMO at Diageo Beer Company and SVP, North America convenience category leader at Diageo.

“Not only did we believe Karol G was the perfect partner, but we knew she was preparing for her first-ever US tour and English track, and we wanted to be a part of those pivotal moments in her legacy as an artist,” he added. “The Bichota Tour is introducing Karol’s bold music to new audiences while paving the way for future Latinas to follow their own career paths just as boldly.”

After flexing her matchmaking skills for Urban Decay and Smirnoff, Newhart turned her attention to Xbox. 

Xbox Game Studios promoted its new game Forza Horizon 5 in the short film, “The Getaway Driver,” created by agency 215 McCann. In the spot, a bored ride-share driver’s (Cristo Fernández) routine is shaken up when an unexpected passenger enters the car: himself. 

The man’s alter-ego instructs him to drive throughout Mexico, where he encounters vehicles like a classic 1963 Volkswagen bug and a Ford Bronco. Karol G makes a cameo as a woman who challenges the man to a drag race.

The campaign was the perfect fit for Karol G, who is a gamer and enjoys starring in “fast-paced, high-energy” creative work, said Newhart. The spot also was released in October, around the same time as her U.S. tour kicked off. And it included a TikTok component, which connected Karol G to her Gen Z fanbase.

“I think the more that the brand understands where the artist is coming from, and artists understands where the brand is coming from, and when they both have that mutual trust and respect in each other's visions, you have these really impactful campaigns that feel the most authentic to both parties,” said Newhart. 

The core brand goal of any celebrity partnership is to introduce artists like Karol G to an untapped audience.

“We want to make sure we tell the story of her history and her cultural roots, and empower the audience so a 15-year-old fan that's sitting in Ohio and hasn't heard of Karol sees her on a commercial and says, ‘Wow, who is that?’”

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