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Country stars sell more than beer and trucks

Madison Avenue turns to Nashville for their new spokespeople
/ Source: Billboard

With their heartland appeal and loyal fans, country acts have often landed endorsement deals for pickup trucks and booze.

But a new generation of artists is trying to branch out to higher-end products normally hawked by rap and rock stars.

“Our consumer is the consumer that the advertisers are trying to reach. They buy the products,” says John Rose, senior executive of sales and marketing at DreamWorks Records Nashville.

Still, some think the image of most country stars is too unhip for many marketers.

“Madison Avenue tends to go with what is the popular culture of the moment,” RCA Label Group chairman Joe Galante says. “They are more about the moment than hitting the middle of America. It’s about being cool, it’s about being hip and also being popular.”

Of course, Galante sees this as a miscalculation.

“Most of the cities in this country are like what Nashville represents or Chattanooga or Austin. That’s what makes up America. But for the most part, people are stuck in L.A. or New York, and that’s their version of what America really wants.”

Others suggest that past endorsement deals have stereotyped country acts as promoters of boots, booze and vehicles.

“Far from it,” Rose says. “The depth of artistry offers advertisers a huge opportunity. We have the largest reach at radio, and our product sells in both urban and rural areas.”

Cover girls and Pepper pushersShania Twain and Faith Hill are crossover country artists in more ways than one. They have appeared on the pop charts as well as in major campaigns for Revlon and Cover Girl, respectively. Twain was also recently featured in a campaign by BeneFit Cosmetics and Glamour magazine selling a new lipstick, Shania Red, with proceeds going to the American Heart Assn.

Toby Keith was included in telephone company ads for MCI’s 10-10-220 long-distance campaign.

Reba McEntire and LeAnn Rimes just signed a deal to star in national TV spots for Dr Pepper. The ads are part of Dr Pepper’s “Be You” campaign, which previously featured Garth Brooks. They will also star Smokey Robinson, Ana Gabriel and Patricia Manterola.

Alejandro Pena, VP of marketing for Mr. Coffee Global Appliances, says the company enlisted Keith for a print campaign in hopes that he could help change consumer impressions of the company’s products.

“We wanted to communicate to our consumers that Mr. Coffee is not your grandmother’s coffee maker anymore,” Pena says.

The campaign started in 2002 with TV personality Carson Daly and snowboarder Chris Klug. “We want to communicate that Mr. Coffee is young, active, energetic and relevant,” Pena explains.

Tim McGraw’s manager, Scott Siman of Nashville-based RPM Management, says his artist has also been offered a wide range of “major endorsement opportunities” outside of the stereotypical categories.

Reeling in the deals“There is certainly an increase in the number of artists who are involved in brands,” says Rick Murray, senior director of strategic marketing for the Country Music Assn.

Murray says the CMA is trying to entice companies to use country acts, working to develop the marketplace with ad agencies and corporate brands as well as TV and film producers.

“We go to the key advertising areas, notably Chicago, New York, Atlanta and L.A., and we talk to ad agencies about the country music audience,” he says.

A personal touch is vital to these efforts. “We bring artists to meet with some of these brand managers at a special dinner or reception,” Murray says. “We also provide tickets for members of the brand team or agency to see the artist live in concert.”

The CMA also sends a quarterly newsletter to 2,000 corporate marketers “talking about success stories and tours that are coming up,” Murray says.

And some companies return the favor. In Trick Pony’s case, Price Oil takes care of the trio’s gasoline needs at home and on the road.

Additionally, most acts get significant multimedia promotional value from their endorsement deals.

Loyalty countsThere are several important reasons that major brands sign deals with country acts: the music’s appeal to a broad range of consumers, the general lack of parental advisory stickers on their music and the loyalty of country fans.

“One thing the country genre is so well-known for is certainly being a little more heart to heart with its fans. It’s almost like family,” Trick Pony’s Heidi Newfield says.

That is one of the reasons why Wrangler jeans works with so many country artists, Wrangler marketing manager Edyie Brooks-Bryant says.

The Greensboro, N.C.-based company has deals with about 40 country artists, including Newfield, George Strait, Phil Vassar, Brad Paisley, Randy Travis, Trace Adkins, Darryl Worley and Tracy Byrd.

The deals range from providing jeans for the artists to multi-level licensing arrangements.

For example, Strait has his own signature line of shirts through Wrangler, which has been involved in his career for some 20 years.

Brooks-Bryant says Wrangler’s relationship with country music is a natural. “Most people who wear Wrangler jeans listen to country music, and they want to think they are a cowboy or be like a particular artist.”

Wrangler is hoping young women will want to wear the 20X brand of Wranglers that Newfield sports.

“She’s a female who is both contemporary and edgy and can wear our product and look good in it,” Brooks-Bryant says. “It’s trendy and fashionable enough that a very hip, very contemporary artist would wear it.”

Selling with a smileWhen Mr. Coffee tapped Keith to represent its brand, it was looking for someone who “is young and full of energy, active, in style and a relevant figure,” Pena says.

The company is reinforcing its country music links with an Internet contest to win a trip to the Academy of Country Music Awards in May.

Ford Motor Co. has also turned to country in general and Keith in particular.

“We knew that country music was a key opportunity for us because more than 60% of truck owners listen to country radio,” says Rich Stoddart, Ford division marketing communications manager.

Stoddart says a country star like Keith perfectly represents the “Built Ford Tough” motto.

“We wanted someone who epitomized what ‘Built Ford Tough’ was all about. We wanted someone who really kind of lived the brand.”