Motown Makes Music In A PT Cruiser

Chrysler backs storied label

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%%STORYIMAGE_RIGHT%% Breaking a new musical artist today has become more of a Herculean proposition than ever. Clear Channel's stranglehold on the radio industry has made it next to impossible for a single by an unknown artist to infiltrate playlists. What's a record company exec to do but to cozy up to advertisers?

Kedar Massenburg and Kojo Bentil at Universal Motown Records have done just that by persuading DaimlerChrysler to pick up a significant chunk of the costs for the music-video for upstart Canadian pop singer Melanie Durrant. They are also attempting to expand the relationship with a co-branding proposal that would range from Chrysler's participation in Durrant's upcoming debut concert tour to a Chrysler-branded music sampler.

Ironically, CEO Massenburg and Bentil, senior VP-strategic marketing at the label, discovered Durrant, an unsigned artist at the time, in a Chrysler PT Cruiser commercial, in which she appears, singing the single "Where I'm Goin.'"

"Kedar and I saw the spot on TV and it was one of those eureka moments," said Bentil. He can only hope that Durrant's career will get a boost akin to the one that Sting received after the Jaguar TV campaign, which has become a touchstone for the potential of branded-music deals.

Motown proceeded to sign Durrant to a recording contract and then went to Chrysler with multicultural marketing shop Global Hue as an intermediary to try to formalize a relationship, which led to the automaker's investment in Durrant's first video. Bentil declined to disclose the financial terms of the investment.

%%PULLQUOTE_LEFT%% According to an exec close to the situation, the video is a take-off on "Pee-Wee's Big Adventure," in which Pee-Wee Herman searches for his lost bike. In the video, Durrant misplaces a PT Cruiser.

Bentil hopes to get Chrysler to take out its pocketbook again for the other components of the package in the next 30 days to dovetail into the release of the single to radio in May, and her debut Motown album, scheduled for a June release.

Bentil thinks Durrant has the chops to make an impact. "At the end of the day, you have to have hits. Gimmicks can only go so far; the music has to be compelling. Everything fell into place and it made a whole lot of sense," said Bentil.

Chrysler brand VP-Marketing Tom Marinelli declined comment.

Over the past 18 months, Massenburg and Bentil have been aggressive about securing deals for their artists with advertisers. An exec close to the situation estimated that "over $200 million worth of free TV advertising" have been secured, including an arrangement where Motown artists India.Arie and Steve Wonder were featured in a $30 million Target television campaign singing a Wonder-arranged version of Mel Torme's "Christmas Song." -With Jean Halliday

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