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Tweeting a mean fortune

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MARKETING NOTORIETY: Arnie Singh has fast become the darling of Hollywood;the micro-endorsements agency he set up a year ago is now a million-dollar company.

Arnie Gullov Singh is the man who monetised celebrity tweets and pulled off some seemingly impossible and pricey endorsement deals, starting with bad boy Charlie Sheen.

It pays to be a bad boy in today's world. Ask Charlie Sheen. A couple of months ago, when the Two and a Half Men star was hurtling towards a very public meltdown, no one could have predicted that he would end up as the best-paid celeb endorser on Twitter. But Arnie Gullov Singh, 38, knew that in social media it pays handsomely to invest in the unusual.

Singh, CEO of ad. ly, is today the top name in what can be called microendorsements in the US. And most of the credit for this reputation goes to his belief in Sheen's brand worth and for getting the scandal-scarred star to endorse some of the biggest - and some not-so-big - products at revolutionary rates on Twitter. The British-born, half-Indian and half-German Singh set up the agency barely a year ago and today it is a milliondollar company.

This is the stuff success stories and the American dream are made of, in a world stumbling over itself to find the next best or biggest thing. Barely a year ago, Singh simply quit his well-paying job at Fox to join ad. ly on the advice of his personal fitness trainer. Then he signed on Sheen as a client. Today, the star known for his unpredictable Twitter outbursts is the highest paid celebrity on the 140-character media.

"Our email inboxes have been 'ringing off the hook', " says Singh with trademark composure. Top companies, he adds, want to cement multi-million dollar deals with him. In fact, he himself has become something of a celebrity in the US, particularly in Hollywood. In a span of about two weeks, post Sheen's Twitter explosion, Singh was interviewed and featured in magazines and newspapers such as Forbes, Wall Street Journal, The Hollywood Reporter, and Business Week.

The entrepreneur is quick to deflect attention from himself. "Every company needs a spokesperson and when you're the CEO, you are that person. But I think the attention is on what we're creating. Celebrity endorsements in social media is the new big thing and it's exciting to be right in the middle of this change, " he says.

It would be unwise to let Singh's calm or the plush Wilshire Boulevard office fool you. Under those cool, blasê facades at ad. ly are minds furiously at work, dreaming up the next seemingly impossible way for their over 1, 000 celebrity clients to make even more money using social media platforms. In this team are two copywriters who study celeb tweets to capture their styles and interests and to make sure the endorsement tweets come across as authentic.

Singh's client list is impressive: Charlie Sheen, Kim Kardashian, Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent, Cristiano Ronaldo, Mariah Carey, Paris Hilton, Soulja boy, Jay Sean, Serena Williams, Denise Richards, Paula Abdul, Nicole Richie, Lindsay Lohan, Kid Rock, Sean Kingston, Kirstie Alley, Enrique Iglasias, Meat Loaf, Alanis Morrisette and even India's own Deepak Chopra and Mallika Sherawat, to name some. The company is unwilling to disclose details of specific payments, but celebs rake in anywhere between $200 and $10, 000 per tweet.

"We look at this era in social media and advertising as pre-Sheen and post-Sheen. Pre-Sheen is all about the tools, post-Sheen is about monetisation. That's a big deal in business, " says Singh. A case in point is the whopping response internships. com, a website Sheen tweeted about a month ago, received. He tweeted that he was looking for an intern and applicants should apply at the website. In less than 24 hours, the website received 75, 000 applications from 181 countries, including applications from journalists and White House interns!

Singh's personal story is interesting. His dad was an Indian doctor who moved to England in the late '50s, his mother is a German. He grew up in England, studying in Bristol, and then came to the US to work for a few start-ups before joining companies like Yahoo, MySpace and even Fox's NewsCorp. "My background is in digital advertising and I spent the last six years of that trying to figure out how to monetise social media, " he says.

He may be only half-Indian, but Singh, like most Indians, is a cricket fan. "I grew up watching cricket and whenever England played India we always had divided loyalties in our household. My dad was sometimes pro-India, sometimes pro-England. I was always pro-England. It was the same thing when England played Germany in football! My perspective is more European but I still have a strong attachment to India because of my dad, " he says.

So, will he be coming to Bollywood to make our filthy rich celebs even richer? "It's funny, before this media attention, I had started to get a number of people calling me from India telling us to come to India. The challenge, however, is to make our model work for the Indian mindset and adapt to the culture, " he pragmatically notes.

What Singh means is this: will you, dear reader, follow our bad boys and girls and buy the products they're endorsing on the internet even after they've owned up to the bad things they've done, that is, if they ever own up?

Singh is aware of the cultural context necessary for pulling off a coup like the Sheen campaign. "Many companies assume they can replicate their model in other countries but they don't really take into account the cultural differences of the market. That is the challenge for us, " he says.

But, at the rate at which India is morphine-ising itself into a global brand, we may soon be tweeting our undying love to our promiscuous stars on khullam khulla platforms no matter what they have been up to in their personal lives. It's the way the world is moving.

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