In what might be termed a first in "addressable" music marketing, Ms. Simpson and her backup singers have sung 500 first names to be selected by fans buying her latest song "Public Affair." Selling at $1.99, Ms. Simpson's "Custom Cuts" is the first of its kind for Yahoo's digital music download service. Fans can visit the Yahoo website and select their own names to be inserted into the download during the song's second verse.
While the idea might be dismissed as something of a sales gimmick, it is indicative of the explosion of personalized media in the MySpace-YouTube era.
The venture is a partnership between Ms. Simpson's label, Epic Records, and Yahoo Music, which paired up in March for a fan-generated contest for Shakira's "Hips Don't Lie." The promotion, which involved fans making their own videos to the song, was such a hit that Yahoo began to brainstorm other ways to connect with fans beyond the video format.
"The goal was to connect consumers with their passions -- in this case, everything Jessica," said L. Bennett Porter, senior director of buzz marketing at Yahoo Music. "Never did you think you'd be able to produce en masse a custom song, so we're excited."
Sales of the personalized single boosted "Affair" up on the Billboard Hot 100, where it peaked at No. 14. However, industry analysts don't see the unique promotion as much more than a clever marketing gambit.
"Totally unproven market value so far, but a neat gimmick that many will watch," Richard Doherty, research director of the Envisioneering Group, said in an e-mail interview.
First use of MP3 format
Yahoo Music, like many other digital download companies, normally only allows users to listen to their downloads on a special media player. The Simpson promotion marks its first foray into the more accessible MP3 format. The move was a long-time coming for the music industry, said Phil Leigh, an independent analyst for Tampa-based Inside Digital Media.
"The labels are trying to find some excuse to sell in the MP3 format without admitting they were wrong," Mr. Leigh said. "They're hoping one of these things will take off and be a success so they can claim they were innovative and creative and earned their salary."
Ms. Bennett Porter said Yahoo Music has no current plans to make more music available in MP3 format, but is "open to all sorts of stuff" in the future.