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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2005/09/08
by Mike Gruenberg

Marketing 101

Rock music has always provided me with a sanctuary where I could escape the rigors of everyday life. Through their songs, musicians could always offer a world that could either make me smile (thanks, Chicago), give me cause to think or just plain give me peaceful relaxation. Furthermore, musicians always represented that "edge" that differentiated allowed us listeners to associate with a lifestyle different from the norm. Our rock stars were our heroes who would never sell out to the dreaded establishment. Even now, as I am firmly planted in adulthood, music no matter the style continues to be my refuge. Whether it’s playing "Rubber Soul" for the millionth time or listening to the new Weezer album or marveling at the brilliance of Latin artist, Ruben Blades, I am reminded of how much a "fan" of all types of music I continue to be.
A number of years ago, The Who released an album, called ‘The Who Sell Out.’ On the cover is a parody of members of the band shamelessly hawking products like beans and toothpaste. It was humorous to see musicians making fun of themselves as the relationship between the entertainment business and Madison Avenue was beginning to take on larger proportions. Advertising companies are paid enormous sums of money to get the public to recognize specific brands of everyday products. In the film business, that can of Coke you saw being consumed by your favorite actor in that part of the movie you saw last night didn’t just happen to appear in the scene by some chance of fate. It was bought and paid for through a series of events that tied the product manufacturer to the advertising agency to the film company and ultimately to the actor that drank the drink, ate the hamburger at Burger King which hopefully would get you to do the same. By associating rock stars with products, manufacturers reasoned that they could sell more of their wares.
In music, more so than films we look to our musicians as the embodiment of being rebellious. I grew up in a time of protest songs along with peace & love. Idealistic perhaps, but it worked for a lot of us. Our rock stars were truly counter culture in our eyes and I always felt that they were above selling out to corporate interests. Hard to imagine Jimi Hendrix at a board meeting at AT&T discussing a new Hendrix inspired Cell Phone. Would not expect to see John Lennon on television in a Nissan commercial, nor would I expect Janis Joplin’s face on a can of hair spray. Would never happen in my lifetime or theirs!

However, times have certainly changed. Last month, while preparing for my Fall sports diversion, football I came upon news that was most discomforting to me. Apparently, our most senior of rockers, The Rolling Stones have entered into a marketing deal with the National Football League. The press release cites the Stones and the NFL in conjunction with ABC Television for the group to publicize ‘Monday Night Football’ and themselves. ABC will feature music and video footage of the Stones throughout the 2005 season in ‘Monday Night Football’ promotional campaigns and in-game highlights as reported by AP. Seemingly, this means The Stones are the official band of the NFL. It has not been confirmed that they are the half-time entertainment for the Super Bowl, but we can safely assume they probably will.
Now I’m not one to look the proverbial gift horse in the mouth and say that the Stones should not accept whatever moneys are being thrown at them by the NFL. I am neither that na nor altruistic, but I do have some significant difficulties in accepting the reasons this marketing relationship. The old axiom used in the business world is that marketing creates the need and sales fills it. So lets look at this relationship and the marketing needs for both: Exposure – Both The Stones and The NFL are two of the most recognizable entities in the world. I cannot imagine that either one needs any more exposure. If on the other hand, the rationale for the NFL is to publicize Monday Night Football because of its steadily declining ratings, then the answer is not to see clips of Mick & The Boys doing ‘Satisfaction’ for the umpteenth time. To solve that problem, the NFL needs to get quality teams to play quality games. Better scheduling and more vibrant commentary by the NFL would solve the MNF problem. Neither the Stones nor any performer has the power to solve this one.
Album Sales – Here I can understand why The Stones may need some marketing help. The group has not released a great album in over 10 years. Better material would solve that problem. Using the NFL will not cover up the fact that the group has had a dismal array of musical offerings that pale in comparison to their previous work in the 60’s & 70’s. Money – Aha, the root of all evil. How much is enough? The NFL is a very wealthy and exclusive club, which can be described as a franchiser of football teams. They are in the midst of working through billion dollar contracts with the networks for the rights to broadcast their football games. All the teams share equally in the broadcast revenue which means that even if your team doesn’t win, you still share equally with your fellow owners in the multi billion dollar bounty provided by the networks and the apparel and sporting goods companies selling licensed NFL products. The Stones are one of the most successful touring groups in the history of music. They are in the midst of a 43-city tour that will net them millions of dollars in advance of them even setting foot in any stadium. No one is passing the hat for The Stones or The NFL. So I repeat, how much money is enough money? Stones vs. Beatles Again – Perhaps The Stones want to also play at half-time at the next Super Bowl just like Paul did at this years’ game. I can almost accept that premise, but if that were the case, they simply could have gotten themselves booked to appear at the next Super Bowl.
No matter how I try to analyze this relationship, I have difficulty accepting it. If The Stones were to make great music again, then all would be well. Sadly, their recent products have been less than satisfying. Similarly, the reason for declining ratings on MNF has been a deficient product both on the field and in the broadcast booth. That could be fixed by scheduling better teams and better commentators. Where is the wit and arrogance of Howard Cosell along with the humor of Don Meredith coupled with the voice and game knowledge of Frank Gifford when we really need them?
I have always been a great fan of The Stones. I checked my record collection to find that I have 31 copies of their 45’s, 11 LP’s and 6 CD’s. I also have albums in all different varieties from Ron Wood, Charlie Watts, Mick and even Keith. Furthermore, I have albums and singles from Bill Wyman plus I also have a signed copies of two Wyman’s books about the Blues and his life with the group. Clearly, I have always been a fan of the group. I am disappointed that they have chosen this approach to publicize themselves. It’s no accident that I have more of their LP’s than CD’s. The music on those old vinyl albums is far superior to their newer releases on CD. However, mostly I am disappointed because it looks to me like they really sold themselves out this time. I accepted the fact that a number of years ago they used a beer company to sponsor their tour. I also accepted the fact that Mick is now Sir Mick. But this NFL relationship has me shaking my head in disbelief.
Marketing is sometimes used to mask an inferior product. I am reminded of a true story concerning an ad campaign created by a Product Manager at a major record company. A carefully worded press release glorifying a new album by an unknown artist was sent to the press and a clever ad for his new album was prominently placed in Rolling Stone magazine. The album was simultaneously released on the same day as the ad that prompted an incredible level of interest that resulted in strong sales of the album for the first three weeks of its release. Then people listened to it and by the end of the month, sales dropped and the albums were returned to the record company. The moral of the story is that you need a minimum of advertising if the product is worthy. People will always buy quality products. You cannot fool the public. All the NFL and Stones have to do is deliver the products that made both of them famous.

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