Cole in Mercury orbit

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Ford Motor Co.'s Mercury is in discussions with Grammy Award winners Paula Cole and musician-producer Don Was to buy exclusive licensing and distribution rights to her next CD for a year. The main scenario under discussion is that Ms. Cole's next CD would come with the purchase of a new Mercury, said Tom Grill, marketing-communications manager at the automaker.

Ms. Cole was contracted by Mercury earlier this year to write a special song for the marketer's "New Doors Opened" campaign, which breaks Sept. 13 from WPP Group's Y&R Brands, Dearborn, Mich. Starting Oct. 1, consumers can get free downloads of four versions of the song, "It's My Life," on

Other carmakers have tied their stars to bands and music. Toyota Motor Sales USA's Scion sub-brand gives away free compilation music CDs of upstart bands to reach its youth target. Mitsubishi Motors North America has been known for discovering unknown bands and songs that got prominent play in its TV commercials. The automaker's name also appeared on stickers on the bands' CDs in stores.

Mr. Was said Mercury could "invent a new distribution system for music" at a time of pain for the recording industry and artists. The Detroit native said free music downloading isn't the main reason for slumping CD sales; it's because CD list prices are too high at a time when "the bar for artistic standards has dropped so low" and record labels play it safe.

Mercury came along at an opportune time for Ms. Cole, who was dropped by Warner Brothers Records earlier this year even though she had eight new songs set for her next CD. "Lincoln-Mercury gave us more creative freedom than I've often been given in my recording career," said Ms. Cole.

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