Launchpad for Houston: McD's plays impresario

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Larry Light may not have bagged a Gold Lion at Cannes, but he still has a shot at getting a platinum record.

McDonald's Corp.'s chief marketing officer played impresario in helping to launch the music career of Houston. The rapper was tapped for global TV spots for McDonald's Big Mac Meal Tracks promotion with Sony Connect-consumers get a free download at the Connect music store with every Big Mac-that sent his "I Like That" single featured in the commercials racing up the music charts. As of late June, the song hit No. 37 on Billboard's "Hot 100" after entering the chart at 75-well before Houston's Capitol Records debut album "It's Already Written" becomes available 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's strategy was to find artists whose music would fit its creative approach aimed at young consumers, especially young men. To do so, it relied on Sony to reach out to its labels to find the right musical partner, said the McDonald's spokeswoman.

McDonald's could have relied on big-name talent. But Sony wanted to "show the power of Connect and McDonald's together what they could do for [emerging] artists," said Jay Samit, general manager of Sony Connect.

Sony found Houston after considering 50 possible contenders, according to executives close to the situation. "He's young and up-and-coming," said the spokeswoman.

In a business where many records don't break into the charts, the effort is shaping up to be a win-win. The marriage allowed McDonald's and Sony to target young consumers ages 13 to 35. It also increased the music network's consumer reach exponentially beyond that afforded by Sony's relatively small marketing budget.


Houston participated in a radio promotion tour at McDonald's restaurants around the country as well. The effort 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.

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 these deals are considered an extension of the label's marketing effort, and 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 a music industry 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, Mr. Light told delegates how he'll know the promotion worked. "Sony assures me that McDonald's will have a platinum record," he proudly announced.

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