Duets: Brands and Bands

Both look for co-marketing muscle in cluttered marketplace

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% A Culver City, Calif., back lot is bustling with activity. Dozens of assistant directors and stylists, as well as bodyguards and managers scurry around, with young girls skipping rope as rap/R&B Grammy-winning diva Mary J. Blige takes her place on the set.

It's not a music video or a feature film but a national TV commercial for Reebok The spot will prominently feature "Love @ 1st Sight," the first single from Blige's upcoming album, "Love & Life." The commercials will run Aug. 15-30 on major cable networks with prominent placement in Foot Locker stores nationally.

As part of the promotion, Reebok International will launch a Mary J. Blige sweatsuit line early in 2004 and will sponsor her tour next year. Omnicom's Davie-Brown Entertainment, Reebok's entertainment marketing shop, along with The Firm, Blige's Beverly Hills management company, coordinated the deal.

This deal was orchestrated within the context of a rapidly consolidating music industry, buffeted by the loss of thousands of jobs. Consumers across all demos are buying fewer CDs than ever. Sales are down 13% from just two years ago and continue to plummet. The industry has pinned the blame mostly on Internet file-sharing and hopes the promise of "legal" sites like Steve Jobs' ballyhooed iTunes Music store will make a difference.

It is against this backdrop that the music industry and advertising have become new suitors: artists, managers, labels and publishing executives are all grasping for alternative revenue streams, or at least another partner to help share the ever-increasing promotional budget to launch new artists and continue to sustain career acts.

Says legendary music manager Irving Azoff, who has about 20 corporate deals for the summer, including Steely Dan/GM Credit and Christina Aguilera with Skechers: "We are selling less catalog and fewer new records. With the economy as bad as it is, costs haven't gone down. We need to make up for some of these losses."

MCCARTNEY TO STONES

This is nothing new, of course. Entertainment Marketing Communications founder Jay Coleman is considered the father of music marketing, launching such early pairings as Earth, Wind & Fire for Motorola and the groundbreaking sponsorship of Coty U.S.' Jovan for the Rolling Stones' 1981 tour. The Who have used Miller Genuine Draft as tour sponsors while Paul McCartney's show was promoted by Visa International.

Examples of recent high-profile ad blitzes include the controversial Celine Dion/Chrysler partnership, which helped launch the diva's new album; Led Zeppelin and Cadillac; and Mya and Common with Coke.

Interscope Geffen A&M Records Marketing/Sales head Steve Berman says the partnership between advertisers and labels is inevitable. "Our goal is always to match up the right artist, the right brand and the right song, and time it to penetrate the marketplace from all angles, together," he says.

RADIO PLAY TOO DIFFICULT

With the passage of the Telecommunications Act in the mid-1990s, and subsequent consolidation of the radio business under monoliths like Clear Channel Communications and Infinity Broadcasting, getting a song heard on the air has become harder than ever. Labels and artists have turned to major advertisers and TV to help reach the broader demos once delivered by radio.

Take, for instance, the longtime sales spike seen by Sting, when his eventual hit single "Desert Rose," which couldn't garner traditional radio airplay, was used as the theme to a Jaguar TV spot and a Compaq Computer campaign.

%%PULLQUOTE_RIGHT%% IT'S GOT TO BE A MATCH

Marketing vet Mitch Litvak is the founder of the L.A. Office, a one-stop shop for brands and entertainers to strengthen their promotional/-commercial ties. "The most important thing is to know your brand's essence and match it properly to your artists," Litvak says.

"Just think of bands as brands," adds Coleman. "Reinforcing that can help sell merchandise, records, tickets and content."

Although the idea of rockers shilling for commercials no longer holds the stigma it did when Nike used John Lennon's "Revolution", there are some who still condemn the practice. Neil Young parodied it in his award-winning video "This Note's for You," with the refrain "Ain't singin' for Pepsi/Ain't singin' for Coke/I don't sing for nobody/Makes me look like a joke."

But the tradition of rock 'n' rollers hyping products goes back to at least the mid-1950s, when the King himself, Elvis Presley, did a radio jingle for Southern-Maid doughnuts as part of his contract with the "Louisiana Hayride" show, undoubtedly arranged by his prescient manager, Col. Tom Parker.

Ayiko Broyard, Davie-Brown music marketing manager, admits any partnership between a star and an advertiser can be a gamble: "If your artist doesn't perform to expectations or reach the intended audience, then neither will your product, and the campaign will be doomed." Coleman points to the Celine Dion Chrysler TV spots, which featured the Crossfire, as a misstep. "If they were promoting a minivan or an SUV to soccer moms, like the later commercials did, it's fine," he says. "But they were promoting a sports car, which is usually a male-dominated item, and I think they turned off a great many men buyers by using her."

While the risks are great, the rewards can be even greater, especially as the partnerships become more innovative and creative. The current multimillion-dollar initiative by independent Big3 Records and Comdex Group's LidRock to promote young rock singer/songwriter Rachel Farris is a prime example of out-of-the-box thinking.

The label, Coca-Cola, 20th Century Fox, Universal Studios Theme Parks, and Anschutz Entertainment Group's theaters are partnered in the current promotion. Farris' video has been played in theaters before the feature presentation, while consumers who bought a large Coke received a 3-inch, two-song CD of her music, which was embedded in the lid. Farris' CD sales have tripled since the promotion began, according to Big3 President Bill Richards.

REFINED PROMOTIONS

With millions of dollars being spent on pairings of artist and product, it's a foregone conclusion that these partnerships will take on a larger role as the industry tries to reverse its downward slide. One wonders if music will simply become a sponsored activity, brought to you by not just the record label but third parties as well, with their own products to sell. Concludes Richards: "The music industry's regular way of doing things doesn't seem to be working…you've got to be pro-active. You have to play offense, not defense…or you'll go out of business."

Contributing: Roy Trakin. Trakin and Pollack are senior editors at Hits Magazine.

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