Many large advertisers are capitalizing on the country music craze without using its stars as spokesmen. A Ford Motor Co. TV spot, including the line saying "I'm in a Ford frame of mind," has a distinct country beat but without a country artist.
"It is like pulling eye teeth to get companies to sign on with anyone," said Paul Stanley, president-creative director of P.S. Productions, Chicago. The marketing company represents Travis Tritt, Tim McGraw and Little Texas.
Still, Mr. Stanley said the situation is improving.
He said Wynonna, formerly of the Judds singing group, just completed a deal in which Dial Corp. sponsored her most recent tour. She also appeared in TV spots for Tone soap.
Clint Black recently signed with Keebler Co. to sponsor his upcoming tour. Randy Travis is with Coca-Cola Co., Alan Jackson with Miller Brewing Co. and Hank Williams Jr. was with Hardee's for the past two years.
Reba McEntire, named the Country Music Association's female country singer of 1993, and Frito-Lay are a team as are Trisha Yearwood and Revlon.
But, Wynonna's concert at Saturn Corp.'s Homecoming this summer didn't mean she will represent the automobile company.
"They haven't asked," she said. "It's a problem everyone is aware of. We don't get the endorsements but I don't know what the answer is. I hope someone does."
Country music's popularity is obvious. Sales of country recordings hit $1.7 billion in 1993, second only to rock 'n' roll's $3 billion, industry officials said. While rock still was No. 1 with a 32.6% share of music sales, it was off 4.8 points from 1990. Country's share more than doubled in that same period, from 8.8% to 17.5%.
Country was the top U.S. radio format in 1994, the Radio Advertising Bureau said, with 2,642 stations, up nearly 200 from 1989.
Mr. Stanley said the Wynonnas of the world have a correct perception that it is very hard to sell sponsorships of country music.
"I think the industry would like to be more involved," said Stan Moress, Mr. Black's manager and a partner in Moress, Nanas, Shea Entertainment Corp., Nashville. "I go to sponsors and present Lorrie Morgan, a Grand Ole Opry tradition, for her 100-city tour next year. Now I am waiting for one to come back to me. And I wait."
Some players say the reason country isn't more visible is those in the industry lack the expertise to put together endorsement packages for their talent.
"It isn't a label's job," said Joe Mansfield, partner in Mansfield & Martinovich Partners, a Nashville-based marketing company specializing in country music. "Managers try to do it but they don't have the expertise. And the star's job is to perform ... The sponsors don't know how to get in touch with the stars and end up with the wrong people."
Mr. Stanley said people representing the artists must give sponsors what they need.
"You need to suggest features, displays, temporary price reductions, new ways for consumers to try the product," he said. "Companies don't do sponsorships because they are interested in country music or an artist."
Some artists have taken matters into their own hands.
Garth Brooks, who chooses not to accept paid endorsements, has done TV spots for McDonald's. But the Oklahoma State University graduate with a degree in advertising and marketing is selling CDs and not Happy Meals. And the money he would have earned goes to Ronald McDonald House.
"Garth set that up himself," said Merle Kilgore, manager for Mr. Williams. He called them, told them he was interested in McDonald House and they put something together quick."
Dawn Hudson is exec VP-client services for DDB Needham Worldwide, New York, the agency that put Frito-Lay together with Ms. McEntire. She said sponsorships for country music stars are starting to ripen.
To better market themselves, Ms. Hudson suggests country stars show a willingness to work with companies while not forgetting their core audience.
The Country Music Association is doing its part by spending nearly $1 million in two years to convince advertisers to hitch their marketing wagons to performers.
"We are going after the non-traditional markets, such as Volvo, by using a consultant to visit sponsors and paint a picture of what country music really is," said Tom Murray, CMA marketing director.
Experts predict viewers will see more country star ads run nationally but only after the buildup of artist-advertiser relationships.
"Audiences watching daytime soaps or `Seinfeld' may not know country stars," said Steve Knill, senior director of entertainment marketing, GMR Marketing, Brookfield, Wis. "Advertisers are not certain yet if Travis Tritt is well-known enough ... to make a national campaign worthwhile."