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"Adult consumers need massive numbers of impressions to be moved to buy."
——J Records’ Tom Corson
ON RECORDS: ADULT AWARENESS CAMPAIGNS CASH IN
Multimedia Campaigns Snare Adult Buyers as Springsteen, Taylor, Jones, O Brother Benefit

by Lenny Beer & Jon O’Hara

If there’s one thing the runaway success of the O Brother soundtrack and the steady climb of newcomers Josh Groban, Norah Jones and John Mayer have taught us, it’s that there’s a very active adult audience—one that may have been disaffected by teenpop but has unquestionably been re-energized.

And if there’s one thing the triumphant return of Bruce Springsteen and the recent successes of James Taylor and other established adult artists have taught us, it’s this: If you reach them, they will come. Thanks to two increasingly important marketing components—adult-targeted TV appearances and Internet promotions—that’s exactly what’s happening.

Indeed, in addition to The Boss and Taylor, artists including Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, Tom Waits and Wilco have posted great sales figures for new releases in recent months—for some their best ever—thanks to awareness campaigns that have found these artists’ audiences both on the tube and online.

It’s no secret that TV helps sell records, but tailoring TV exposure to upper-demo outlets such as morning shows and late-night news programs, in addition to the traditional Leno/Letterman/SNL shots, has given adult projects a definite boost. And online, the Internet has indeed helped increase record sales, but not in the way most people expected: It’s not about downloads, it’s about plastering an artist all over the major "adult mall" portals and offering music samples that generate word of mouth.

Given the fact that most adult artists don’t get a lot of Top 40 radio or MTV exposure, and most of the adult audience isn’t tuning into those outlets anyway, alternative ways of getting the word out become even more critical.

Consider the case of Springsteen, whose remarkable 525k debut week set the benchmark for classic-rock comebacks. The TV campaign was focused and intensive: Central to the effort was his appearance on NBC’s Today, an event-marketing coup that included having the entire show broadcast from Asbury Park, a live performance and features extending through the week. The Today-athon was followed by multi-night appearances on ABC’s Nightline and Up Close, as well as Letterman.

The online campaign centered on a major AOL Music "First Listen" program, which debuted tracks from The Rising on four consecutive Mondays, cranking up the buzz prior to the TV onslaught and allowing people to hear and talk about the music before the album’s release. That move, complemented by tons of press (topped off by a "Reborn in the USA" Time cover), helped mobilize the masses.

For fellow Columbia artist Taylor, whose still-Top 10 October Road debuted at #4 with sales of over 153k—his best first week ever—the campaign took a similar approach: Taylor did interviews with Entertainment Tonight and Access Hollywood before performing on The View the day of release, followed by a Today Summer Concert performance, a Letterman and a CBS This Morning segment. An ad featuring Taylor aired on MSNBC, CNBC, CNN, Fox News, Food Network, the Home & Garden channel and during all of Taylor’s appearances.

Online, Taylor was made AOL Music’s "Artist of the Month," a promotion that included a live performance and the debut of first single "On the Fourth of July," which was streamed 325k times the first day. After release, AOL had the entire streamed album available for a day. Targeted e-mail and programs with other portals, including Amazon (which pre-sold some 11k units), MSN and Quicktime, rounded out the campaign.

"We recognized over a decade ago how important TV is for any artist, but particularly for adult artists, so we make an effort to have a staged campaign," says Columbia Sr. VP Marketing W.C. Peter Fletcher. "And while we love airplay, we don’t count on it. ‘On the Fourth of July’ has about 5 million in radio audience a week, but with these TV appearances and the advertising, we’re generating hundreds of millions of impressions a week. The online stuff is hundreds of millions of impressions on top of that."

J Records Exec. VP Worldwide Marketing Tom Corson, who has Rod Stewart’s label debut coming, agrees, noting the need for press and retail programs to be supplemented by national exposure: "Adult consumers need massive numbers of impressions to be moved to buy," he says. "You’ve got to reach everybody, and you’ve got to reach them at least three or four meaningful times on television and countless times online. It’s vital to have an online campaign, because these people are at work, and they’re not necessarily going to artist sites—you have to have partnerships with MSN, Lycos, AOL—the massive portals."

As for TV, he says, "It’s not just about SNL/Leno/Letterman. Those are great, record-buying demos. But truth be told, for acts that are 35-plus and not necessarily Top 40-driven, the morning shows are probably more effective at driving sales."

Meanwhile, Yahoo! VP/GM Music Dave Goldberg observes that online promotion helps reach a broad cross-section of consumers: "The Internet allows greater cross-pollination of music and audiences. It provides a platform for a large base of consumers both young and old. While it might be ‘adult’ music, it’s not just for a 35-plus audience."

In addition to the upcoming Stewart album, which will feature the rock mainstay interpreting standards by Gershwin, Cole Porter and others, classic-rock stalwart Tom Petty has a new album, The Last DJ (Warner Bros.) streeting Oct. 8.

The title track went to radio on Sept. 3, but as part of the project’s online campaign, it was available for listening on AOL and Netscape for 24 hours prior. And on Oct. 15, a live performance of the entire album, with orchestra, will be beamed to movie theaters in 40-odd markets. Says Petty manager Tony Dimitriades, "You can’t rely on any one medium anymore. So there will be substantial attention given to Internet promotions, and there’s going to be a lot of TV—morning shows included."

He also notes that, similar to The Rising, the subject matter of Petty’s album has generated interest among some major news programmers. "I think there are a lot of people who will go to Tom Petty concerts and enjoy his songs who may not be listening to the radio 10 hours a day," he says. "And if those people are somewhere else and you are prepared to go there to find them, you’ll do fine."

Or, as Corson reminds us, "It’s about the impressions, stupid."

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