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|12-26-2006, 10:53 PM||#1|
Join Date: Aug 03, 2001
John Mellencamp's "Our Country"
After a Song Is Featured in a Chevy Ad, Will Consumers Still Buy the Album?
By ETHAN SMITH
John Mellencamp's 21st studio album, "Freedom's Road," isn't due out until next month. But his record label is already worrying that one song, "Our Country," may be suffering from overexposure.
A pervasive ad campaign for Chevrolet's Silverado sport-utility vehicle uses 60 seconds of the rootsy song as a backdrop for a montage of images including immigrants waving at the Statue of Liberty and Neil Armstrong walking on the moon, meant to evoke nostalgia and American values. Other images in the spot recall rougher patches in the nation's history, such as the Vietnam War and Watergate.
Gary Pascoe, executive creative director at the agency that created the spots, The Interpublic Group of Companies Inc.'s Campbell-Ewald, says Mr. Mellencamp's lyrics and raspy delivery jibed with the message the company was trying to convey: that the truck has endured good times and bad.
"John's voice is uniquely American," Mr. Pascoe says. "It's honest, hardworking, authentic and real. That's what his voice conveys. And that's what the Silverado stands for."
General Motors Corp.'s Chevrolet spent close to $1 million buying airtime for just the first month of the campaign, before it had even ramped up to full exposure, estimates TNS Media Intelligence. The campaign is slated for an indefinite run.
But executives at Mr. Mellencamp's label, Universal Republic Records, worry that with the ad saturating television broadcasts for nearly six months before the release of the new album, some fans could sour on the song. A commercial-length excerpt of a song may not allow listeners to appreciate its nuances. "Exposure is one of the most valuable assets there is these days," says Universal Republic President Monte Lipman. "But when you hear the song in the context of a commercial, it doesn't do it justice."
Indeed, backlash may be setting in. The ads have already inspired at least one parody video on YouTube, substituting pictures from the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, guys with beer guts and other unflattering aspects of America -- with Mr. Mellencamp's song in the background.
Mass exposure can be especially hard to come by for an artist like Mr. Mellencamp, whose best commercial days may be behind him. His last studio album, 2003's "Trouble No More," has sold just 180,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That is a far cry from his two biggest hits, "American Fool" and "Scarecrow," both of which have shipped more than five million copies, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Universal Republic has sold 39,000 digital downloads of "Our Country" via the iTunes Music Store and other outlets, according to SoundScan.
Joshua Rabinowitz, senior vice president and director of music at WPP's Grey Worldwide ad agency, who has no connection to the deal, says advertisers launching a campaign as big as the one for the Silverado would typically pay a musician of Mr. Mellencamp's stature $500,000 and $750,000 for the rights to the song. A representative for Mr. Mellencamp declined to comment on specifics of the deal.
Vivendi SA's Universal and Mr. Mellencamp himself are set to mount a defense in the coming weeks. "The strategy is to get the album out into people's hands as quickly as we can," says Mr. Lipman. "I don't want the first introduction of a brilliant John Mellencamp album to be, it's just commercial, or it's a commercial." To that end, Universal plans to deliver at least three or four cuts to rock- and country-radio programmers this week and the rest of the album soon after.
Mr. Mellencamp also plans to record a short interview, designed to be delivered to radio stations across the country in early January. Among the topics the Q&A session is to address is the fact that Mr. Mellencamp wrote "Our Country" as just another of his songs -- one he has been playing in concert for at least a year -- not as a jingle.
Neither Mr. Mellencamp nor his manager, Randy Hoffman, was available to comment.
These days, it is common for new artists to reach their first mass audiences through commercials. The performer Moby, for example, licensed every song from his album "Play" before it was released in 1999; the disc went on to become his commercial breakthrough. It is less common for established acts to unveil new work in the medium. "We're in uncharted waters here," says Mr. Lipman.
Still, Mr. Mellencamp isn't the first major artist to license a song for use as a jingle ahead of its release on an album. Sting has used the tactic to boost record sales. In 2003, folk-pop singer Jewel allowed her song "Intuition" to be used in a major television campaign for Energizer Holdings Inc.'s then-new Schick Intuition razor before the release of the album containing the song. Like Mr. Mellencamp, Jewel said at the time she had written the song on her own, not for the ad campaign. Even before the album, "0304," was released, the song kicked up a storm of criticism in the press, and Pearl Jam singer Eddie Vedder satirically disparaged the move onstage during at least one concert. "I don't even have to download anything," Mr. Vedder told a San Diego audience. "I can just watch TV and wait for the commercial."
Despite strong financial backing from Energizer, which paid for a music video on top of its own ads using the song, the album's sales performance was only fair compared with her earlier releases. The album sold only 763,000 in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, compared with 7.2 million copies of her biggest hit, "Pieces of You."
Grey Worldwide's Mr. Rabinowitz says Mr. Lipman is right to be worried about Mr. Mellencamp. A campaign like the GM one, with its political overtones, could tarnish an artist's image. Big-name artists, Mr. Rabinowitz says, have established "high-level brands" that need to be protected. "They've accomplished so much and put in so many years to establish this level of respect," Mr. Rabinowitz says. "When they're associating themselves with another brand, you don't want a collision."
In the case of the Chevy campaign using the Mellencamp song, Mr. Rabinowitz says he and others in the advertising community interpreted the ads as a clunky attempt to use patriotism to rally American truck buyers against Japanese manufacturers.
Chevy spokesman Terry Rhadigan says executives at the auto maker rejected an even-harder-edged version of the ad that showed an atomic-bomb detonation.
The Chevy campaign, which is slated for an open-ended run, follows other ubiquitous ad campaigns that have paired specific songs with cars -- including Cadillac's use of "Rock n Roll," by Led Zeppelin, and the previous longstanding Silverado theme song, Bob Seger's "Like a Rock." Those campaigns have indelibly linked song and car in the minds of many fans. "Like a Rock" was the Chevy SUV's signature song for more than a decade before being retired this year. But both those songs enjoyed long lives of their own before becoming automotive overtures.
|12-27-2006, 12:46 PM||#2|
05/26/2013. Taste the happy.
Join Date: Dec 17, 2001
Location: Oroville, California
It may have backfired, but I think it was a good shot. The sad fact of the matter is, no matter how good an album is, classic rockers have a really hard time getting their new stuff played on the radio or exposed on MTV and VH1, so I thought exposing it in such a massive ad campaign was a clever idea.
It certainly is the moxt exposed Mellencamp song in about 10 years (the last one probably being "Key West Intermezzo (I Saw You First)" in 1996).
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