McDonald's Corp.'s chief marketing officer may turn impresario since having a hand in launching the music career of Houston. After being tapped for global TV spots promoting McDonald's Big Mac Meal Tracks promotion with Sony Connect—with every purchase of a Big Mac, consumers get an access code for a free download at the Connect music store at www.connect.com— the rapper's single, "I Like That," which scores the commercials, is racing up the music charts and already is an instant favorite in clubs. It features of-the-moment rappers Chingy and Nate Dogg. As of last week, the song hit No. 37 on Billboard's "Hot 100" after entering the chart three weeks ago at 75.
Oh, and his Capitol Records debut album "It's Already Written" won't be available until Aug. 10. Not bad for an artist who had never performed live until his appearance at a McDonald's press conference announcing the partnership. The fast feeder wanted artists whose music would fit its creative approach aimed at young consumers, especially young men, and tapped Sony to reach out to its labels to find the right artists, said the McDonald's spokeswoman.
CHAMPION OF THE NEW
McDonald's could have relied on big name talent to help draw new customers to the restaurants and to Sony's Connect site. But Sony wanted to "show the power of Connect and McDonald's together what they could do for [upstart] artists," said Jay Samit, general manager of Sony Connect. Since the avid music buyer wants to discover new artists, he considers his main competition pirated peer-to-peer networks. By helping to catapult Houston into stardom, Sony and McDonald's get credit with the music consumer base, especially since the song isn't available anywhere else.
Sony ultimately found Houston by reaching out to competitor major labels like Capitol as it looked at 50 possible contenders, according to execs close to the situation. Houston fit the bill since his music had the "look, feel and fit" for the spots promoting the partnership. "He's young and up and coming," said the spokeswoman. "He understood that by having his music on our commercial while his song was hitting the charts, he created huge awareness by partnering with us."
Music has been tapped as one of the four "languages"— sports, fashion and entertainment are the others—that McDonald's is currently relying on to give the once-tired brand a shot of contemporary relevance. The chain's partnering with Sony "allows us to take our commitment to music to another spectrum," said the spokeswoman.
In a business where labels work more records that don't break into the charts, the effort is shaping up to be a win-win-win. The marriage allowed McDonald's and Sony to target young consumers ages 13 to 35, although McDonald's "has such a strong footprint in every demographic," said Samit. It also increased the music network's consumer reach exponentially beyond Sony's relatively small marketing budget.
Samit also praised the main global TV spot created by Publicis Groupe's Leo Burnett, which included a cameo of Justin Timberlake, for adding to the cool factor. "It felt like a music video," he said. "We couldn't have gotten that quality on our budget. I'm lovin' it."
Since the McDonald's promotion broke, Connect has seen tremendous lift in new customers, said Samit. He wouldn't disclose numbers.
Houston participated in a radio promotion tour at McDonald's restaurants around the country as well. Samit called McDonald's an "amazing marketing powerhouse" after seeing how quickly it turned around the effort that began June 8 in the U.S., Puerto Rico and Canada. In July the promotion expands into France, Germany and the United Kingdom and perhaps also into Asia.
%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% McDonald's isn't the first marketer to break an artist, but it appears to be the first to launch one internationally. Apple virtually created overnight sensations of Jet and the Black Eyed Peas when their songs were featured in ads for the iPod player.
That's a far cry from a decade ago when artists turned their noses up at commercial opportunities and charged ridiculous licensing fees. Now it's considered an extension of the label's marketing effort. "You're seeing less requests for a Lear jet for shoots," said one music industry executive. Now if the ads are timed to coincide with the artists' music release and marketing efforts, artists' fees become more reasonable because they realize the extended media buy from the marketer.
"Hypothetically, if that helps the radio plan and the MTV plan and the ticket-selling plan and you're willing to put in an additional $2 million into the media buy, we're going down on our fee by $500,000," said the executive. "Everything feeds off each other. Every time [a song] plays on the radio it reinforces the ad and vice versa."
During his keynote speech on June 16 at Advertising Age's AdWatch conference, Larry Light told delegates how he'll know the promotion worked. "Sony assures me that McDonald's will have a platinum record," he said. Contributing: Ann Marie Kerwin