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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2014/03/30
by Mike Gruenberg

It’s All About Marketing

In My Life

The oldest adage in the world of marketing and sales is that “marketing creates the need and then sales fill it.” No matter the industry, no matter the product, no matter the cost. A good marketing person is worth their weight in gold.

For years, companies have been trying to figure out how to be more subtle in achieving success in their advertising. Many years ago, a popular soft drink company decided to use movie audiences as their test market to see if they cold subliminally get the audience to buy more soft drinks. During a film, the name of the soft drink brand was flashed across the screen in less than a second hopefully causing people to subconsciously think of drinking a specific brand of soda. When this scheme was found out, the soft drink company had to abandon their idea of planting subconscious thoughts in the minds of the movie audience even though their stunt did in fact sell more soda. In the end, this was just another creative way to market and sell a product.

The music business has always been a fertile ground for advertisers to try to figure out ways to latch onto the most popular acts of the day to have fans associate the brands to be sold with their favorite stars. I thought about how rock stars and actors are called upon to publicize and in essence, endorse a product. When I recently watched the Super Bowl and there, in front of my eyes and the eyes of millions of people was Bob Dylan hawking Chrysler automobiles. Really, Bob? Not enough money from royalty checks coming in for “Blowing in the Wind?”

Now I don’t begrudge anyone from making a living. Every professional athlete that gets paid millions of dollars for throwing a ball, making a three-point shot or tackling a quarterback 10 yards behind the scrimmage line deserves every obscene amount of money they can possibly squeeze out from wealthy sports franchise owners. But Bob Dylan hawking cars is as difficult for me to see as Jimmy Page wearing a suit and tie at the Kennedy Center or Bruce Springsteen waxing poetic about his favorite politician. I know it’s their right to do so and certainly their obligation to increase their income, but it just seems odd to see and hear these things from these anti-establishment icons for this child of the 60’s like me. I’m still trying to get over seeing Eric Clapton in a tuxedo.

For better or for worse, marketing is now an integral part of everyone’s life, much like the cameras on the street corner following our every move as we get on with our daily routines. Therefore, it is not uncommon for many companies to overtly figure out new ways of placing their brands in front of us in a variety of ways. For example:

• Dr. Pepper (part of the Snapple Group) is teaming up with Latin artist, Romeo Santos as part of their “One of One” campaign to celebrate individuals. However, at closer look, the campaign while outwardly seems to be a good cause is in actuality a way in which for Dr. Pepper to get more exposure to the Latin soft drink market. Santos is a very popular Latin artist and Dr. Pepper is betting on this relationship to sell more soda in the Latin-American cities on a global basis.

You can rest assured that Coca-Cola and Pepsi are keeping their marketing eyes on Dr. Pepper’s activities. The Dr. Pepper brain trust will not only cultivate the relationship with Latin star Santos, but also have signed a deal with rap star Pitbull in an effort to introduce their drink to a wider audience.

That of course, brings to mind another fierce competition between two retail giants in Walmart and Target as they try to secure more revenue from sales of music in their stores.

• Target is giving the longer established music retailer Wal-Mart a serious run for its music generated money. According to Billboard, “The Target circular reaches 50 million homes…” which means that a lot of advertising of the latest CD’s on sale at the store will be seen by a lot of people. Those ads are carefully placed to get the most exposure which the store hopes will translate into increased CD and LP sales. And everyone who has ever been to a Target knows that there is always a selection of the latest CD’s at the check out counter. Think of how many people have a few minutes to stand on the line and look around to see the music on display before checking out at all those Target stores. Those albums were not placed there by accident. Careful marketing strategies by the retailer in concert with the record companies decided what artists’ music was to be placed where and for how long the product will remain in that prized location. It’s a highly orchestrated marketing initiative to increase sales.

Much the same as Pepsi, Coke and Dr. Pepper are using every marketing effort to win the music marketing battle, so too Wal-Mart, Target and Best Buy are in heavy competition, as well. There is too much money at stake for each to actively jump in the fray.

Celebrity endorsements have been around ever since Madison Avenue was paved. But now, so many artists are cashing in to get paid to tout a product. And why not? If the company is willing to pay, the artists should be willing to take the cash. Most recently, Shakira struck a deal with T-Mobile, Alicia Keys with BlackBerry, Justin Timberlake with Bud Light Platinum, Taylor Swift with Diet Coke and the list and the money goes on and on and on.

The bottom line is that today’s clever marketing bears very little resemblance to the word of Don Draper on Mad Men. Marketing today is highly structured, well thought out and generates a hell of a lot of money. Whether it’s Atlantic Records teaming up with Doritos, or Willie Nelson appearing with his latest album for sale on QVC or Lil Wayne taking an equity stake in a French watch company that will be endorsed by him, marketing is part of the new music business marketing reality. And the reality is that they all have to run faster, be more clever than the rest and come up with new alliances with artists just to stay even.

As a post script to the new marketing paradigm, I read that the Motley Crue band was retiring after 30 years of gold and platinum album success, sold-out concerts and probably more parties than any of us can ever imagine. Although a great band, Motley Crue belonged to another time and place in music business marketing. Maybe that’s what all new stuff is all about as the new guys take center stage and the older guys find more things to do in their spare time.

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