Super Bowl

Eminem's 'Recovery' Brings Super Bowl Spots, Super Sales

Rapper Returns to Cultural Relevance With Biggest Album of 2010, Thanks to Help From Marketers

By Published on .

NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- In Lipton Brisk iced tea's Super Bowl spot, a Claymation version of Eminem hops from scene to scene describing his demands for doing commercials -- hot chicks, filming at his own house, recording his own songs. When a corporate exec tells him he can't rename the product, though, he tosses the buttoned-up suit off the roof and tells the audience, "See, that's why I don't do commercials." Except for that one of course -- and one for Chrysler -- in the Big Game.

It's a cheeky self-referential spot for a musician who has, in fact, relied on marketing partnerships with everyone from the NHL to ESPN to Activision to PepsiCo to build his latest album, "Recovery," into the highest-selling of 2010. And when he makes a featured appearance at this weekend's Grammys, where he's got 11 nominations -- the most of any artist -- it'll cap a return to cultural relevance Eminem hasn't truly experienced since his early-2000s heyday.

Eminem's Brisk iced-tea ad.
Eminem's Brisk iced-tea ad.
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The Detroit rapper has been the comeback story of the year for an industry that loves a good comeback, and it started with an admission that he'd flopped on his 2009 album "Relapse." Billed as his first proper album after a five-year semi-hiatus from the music industry, it failed to launch a major hit single, sold a disappointing 2 million copies and was generally panned by most critics. So when Interscope/A&M/Geffen Records, its chairman Jimmy Iovine and Interscope Vice Chairman Steve Berman put out last year's "Recovery," they knew they had to get hardcore fans to tune in, as well as find ways to expose the album to a broader audience.

"Everybody realized that 'Relapse' was a very hardcore Emimem fan-based record, so the approach on the next album was to go wider," Eminem's manager Paul Rosenberg said. "The songs fit a much more accessible format so that was the approach in marketing the record as well."

The strategy included a bevy of licensing deals. "Not Afraid" was licensed for sports telecasts such as the National Hockey League's Stanley Cup final, Spike's Ultimate Fighting Championship, ESPN's basketball playoffs and HBO's sports docu-series "24/7." Another song, the Pink duet "Won't Back Down," was featured in ads for "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" via a partnership with Activision.

Working with more accessible music was one advantage for Eminem's marketing team, but the sometimes reclusive artist himself remained a bit of a challenge.

"With Em, you've got a guy that maintains his iconic status by probably being a little more mysterious than a lot of artists today," said Christian Clancy, a former Interscope marketing exec who now handles Eminem's marketing strategy exclusively. "In an age of really heavy artistic transparency he kind of flies in the face of convention. So how do you market around that?"

Perhaps the most telling example was the series of viral ads starring Vince "ShamWow" Shlomi showcasing different uses for the "Recovery" CD -- from a vegetable peeler to a drink coaster to a cheese grater. "The original idea was, why don't we spoof those commercials?" Mr. Clancy said. "Then we decided, forget spoofing them. Let's get the guy and we'll do a direct marketing commercial for this album."

"Not Afraid" became the second-ever rap single to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 100, and has sold more than 3.4 million digital downloads, making it the seventh most-downloaded song of 2010, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And Eminem's duet with Rihanna, "Love the Way You Lie," was an even bigger hit, spending seven weeks at the top of the Hot 100 and selling over 4.25 million digital downloads. "Recovery" sold over 3.42 million copies in 2010 and rebounded to the top 10 of the Billboard 200 during the crucial holiday-album sales weeks of December.

A new single, "Space Bound," should help keep the momentum going, as should several appearances on longtime collaborator/producer Dr. Dre's much-anticipated album "Detox."

"Not Afraid" and "Love the Way You Lie" were arguably the most accessible songs of Eminem's career, despite dealing with personal themes such as drug addiction and domestic violence -- and a departure from the artist's M.O. of relying on jokey tracks such as "Without Me" as a first single, said Interscope marketing chief Dennis Dennehy.

As for Mr. Berman, "Recovery" also represents one of the first albums in which Eminem hasn't referenced or devoted an entire skit to the Interscope exec. "Relapse" had an entire 90-second sketch in which the music honcho says to Eminem, "Do you know how many jobs the music industry lost because of your f*cking vacation?" And with album sales down more than 12% in 2010 alone, the fact that "Recovery" has done so well is a sweeter success to Mr. Berman than Eminem in some respects.

Still, he said, "I am there when and if Em ever needs me to beat up."

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