The Appeal of Country Artists When the Chips Are Down

Red Roof Inn Partners With Little Big Town, Phil Vassar, Plus Lee Ann Womack Flogs Frozen Dinners

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Little Big Town in Red Roof Inn video

Country band Little Big Town in a Red Roof Inn-sponsored original video

Here on the East Coast, it's easy to underestimate the influence of country music. But every now and then, a truck leaves a smattering of stories scattered across our interstate and it's hard to not notice all the clucking.

Earlier this week, the Times reported on Red Roof Inn's new promotion with Little Big Town and Phil Vassar, whereby the musicians signed up for some traditional cross-promotion as well as more creative endeavors, like musical wake-up calls and custom on-hold music. Through original videos on their site, the idea is to encourage gas-pinched road warriors to stay at the same value-priced hotels that country stars do.

According to MediaPost's Marketing Daily, Lee Ann Womack has been named the spokesperson for Banquet's value-priced Select Recipes frozen dinners. In exchange, the Con Agra band will reportedly sponsor her new single on radio stations nationwide, which sounds an awful lot like payola, but we're sure it's above-board legally.

In light of this and other deals like Sara Evans' partnership with Libby's and Jessica Simpson's promotion with Stampede beer, MediaPost has some insight into why country music remains so attractive for marketers:
Why the upsurge? Country's overall reach is an obvious draw: Nearly 55% of U.S. women and 45% of men are country music listeners, according to the Country Music Association. And while whites/Caucasians still represent about 93% of country fans, the other 7% are African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnicities.

"Country is becoming bigger and more attractive to both whites and non-whites, and it's going to get even bigger," observes Roberto Ramos, president and CEO of New York ad agency The Vox Collective. He points to a growing number of crossover artists, as well as NBC's launch of "Nashville Star"-and its multiethnic range of participants.
The obvious answer is that country artists are enormously popular, but there's another, only a little less-obvious one: the economy. Clearly, Red Roof Inn and Banquet would like to pretty-up value-conscious brands, and country artists, beyond any other popular genre of music, strive for blue-collar believability. So close your eyes and try to imagine who'd be more likely to buy the same $1.50 frozen BBQ chicken meal that you would: Lee Ann Womack or Sheryl Crow? As we become more strapped for cash, musicians who cultivate working-class, scrappy brands will be more and more attractive to mainstream marketers.

From this week's Ad Age:
"As the recession has generally affected brands, there is very clear growth in the value of brands that have what you would call more basic, everyday products," [David Haigh, CEO of Brand Finance] said. "People are longing to rely on brands they can trust -- brands that are good value for the money."

Mr. Haigh said consumers are interested in brands such as Avon, Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, Wal-Mart and McDonald's, while they are shying away from brands with more expensive or discretionary profiles, such as Starbucks, L'Oréal, Nokia, Nike and Coca-Cola. Banking brands such as HSBC, Wachovia and Bank of America are still resonating with consumers, he said.
We don't think that consumers will shy away from supporting artists with "expensive or discretionary" styles/personas -- because recorded music costs about the same no matter who's making it -- but Kanye West or Coldplay may not have the same kind of personal resonance that marketers are looking for right now while things are tight.

To many people, popular celebrity-musicians like Kanye don't seem to represent "us" and the lives we live as much as even popular country stars do -- and, before you start, let's not get into the reality of this perception. We think big advertisers will increasingly partner with popular, down-home country musicians until things turn back around. In other words, the stagflationary road will be littered with plenty of Dixie Chicks.