Sting-Jaguar deal still serves as model for the music world

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Three years is an eternity in the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately environs of Hollywood. But a discussion of entertainment/brand alliances with anyone in the music business is sure to include reverent references to the Sting-Jaguar deal of 2000.

It's a touchstone, one that's particularly relevant as music labels aggressively combat the piracy they blame for decimating recorded music sales. There are factors in the decline beyond file-sharing sites and CD burners. Even consumers who legally download songs reject buying a package of 10 songs when what they want is a single. Some blame product quality, saying there's not enough good music. But it's really a marketing issue. It's almost impossible for artists to break through. They can't get radio exposure, and with MTV a lifestyle network, videos are pushed to second-tier channels.

There's a broad spectrum of possible solutions with four current favorites. The first is to create quality, legitimate download services (Apple's iTunes is the best so far). Record execs believe people will pay for music if they have choice and convenience. The second is lawsuits against those who pirate music, a step that risks alienating customers. The third is price cuts. Universal Music Group smartly lowered the cost of its CDs by 30%; rivals will almost certainly be forced to follow suit.

The fourth path is to align with brands to extend distribution and marketing budgets. With that in mind, and with Sting-Jaguar still the model, I visited the architect of that deal at his home office in West Hollywood. The alliance would never have happened, everyone involved agrees, were it not for Miles Copeland, then Sting's manager.

The story begins with the video shoot for Sting's "Desert Rose," the second single from his late 1999 album "Brand New Day." The video called for Sting to be driven through the desert to a club. The director chose a Jaguar S-Type as a cool, contemporary vehicle.

When Copeland saw the finished video, he says he realized, "My God, it's a car commercial." He sent a copy to Jag shop Ogilvy & Mather. They were intrigued, more so by Copeland's proposal: "If you will make the commercial look like an ad for my record, I'll give it to you free."

The label had earmarked $1.8 million to market the single, Copeland said, including $800,000 to make the video. By contrast, Jaguar spent $8 million to air the spot, which visibly promoted the artist and album. Copeland's blue eyes still sparkle when he recalls the figures, almost unheard of in music marketing.

Before the commercial, Sting got little radio play for the exotic single, and sales ambitions for the album were a modest 1 million. After, Copeland says, "Desert Rose" played on 180 Top 40 stations and sales soared. It was Sting's biggest solo album, selling 4 million copies in the U.S. Jaguar sales also skyrocketed as younger buyers flocked to dealers.

The deal was a watershed, Copeland says, because, while classic hits had long been licensed for commercials, "This was the first time it was an unknown song by a contemporary artist." Ultimately, he believes, "the reason it worked was that it was ... a natural association, and both products looked good."

Copeland today runs his own label, Ark21, and has put together a belly-dancing troupe that is signing sponsorship deals to popularize the activity. Despite the serendipity of the Sting deal, he says the model can and should be replicated.

"The record business can't afford to take the burden of breaking an artist all on its own," Copeland says. "We need to spread the risk and get help."

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