will.i.am is teaming up with The Coca-Cola Company for a new global sustainability and recycling initiative called Ekocycle, a stand-alone brand designed to raise awareness and proceeds for environmentally friendly causes. The program will debut Wednesday (Aug. 1) with a 60-second commercial (featuring Will.i.am's new single "This Is Love") and will be followed by an extensive TV, online and community-based marketing campaign geared toward boosting recycling programs in North America.
Will.i.am and Coca-Cola are also teaming up with New Era and Beats by Dre headphones for a series of exclusive products made partially from recycled materials, with Coca-Cola committing to donate a portion of its licensing profits from the products to a yet-to-be-determined charity, with a minimal commitment of $1 million over the next five years.
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For Will.i.am, Ekocycle is a passion project that he first pitched to Coke while he was on tour with the Black Eyed Peas in 2010, making it an anti-endorsement deal of sorts. After AEG Live president-CEO Randy Phillips helped Will.i.am secure a meeting with Coke executives during the Peas' Atlanta tour stop, the singer/producer pitched Bea Perez, Coke's then-chief marketing officer of North America, and other senior executives on the concept of creating a branding initiative around sustainability.
"I saw Ekocycle as being a basecloth, where you would take the technology that makes plastic and make a thread out of it to make jackets and shoes and glasses and watches," Will.i.am says during a recent interview at New York's Radio City Music Hall. "And then you'd have that brand of sustainability partner up with other brands to create a demand where the people are demanding the product they love to be made out of sustainable materials."
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Though the program took over two years to go from pitch to launch, the timeframe ended up overlapping with a new role for Perez at the company that now has her serving as chief sustainability officer, making her an ideal fit for Ekocycle. "We know approximately 30% of people recycle in the U.S., and that's not a big number," she says. "And there's two things in the way of that - a lack of education or the fact that it's inconvenient. We're a data-driven business so we looked into the numbers behind those problems and ways we could inspire others to drive this change.
"We wanted something that could be innovative and break through the clutter," she continued. "If we did it alone it wouldn't work, but if we do it with someone like Will that can inspire a youth movement to make the change, that was more powerful than anything else. It was Will being personally involved and having that vision that excited us more than anything else."
Will.i.am expects music to play a larger role in Ekocycle going forward, particularly as he preps his second solo album, "#willpower," for a fall release. "I have a clothing line [I.am clothing] and I want a big part of my clothing line to be products that I make around the Ekocycle technology. When I do those projects, music will be a big part. But I also want to make content that's not just music but short films - 5-minute impactful information bites to inspire people on the importance of everyone contributing. Why just stop with the song?"
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In addition to sustainability initiatives, Coca-Cola has been ramping up its involvement with the music industry in recent years as it creates more global music platforms tied to its sponsorships of the FIFA World Cup, the Olympics and "American Idol" and recent partnership with Spotify.