Hitting heartstrings of target demos reels 'em in sez exec

Call it what you like — synergy, killing two birds with one stone, or just plain dumb luck — the recent phenom of using the hippest music available in commercials has forged a new marketing relationship between music companies and Madison Avenue.

Some people may decry it as the ultimate co-opting of a once rebellious art form with selling stuff, but for the moment, it’s working for both parties: More albums are getting sold and advertisers are finding more of their ads are sticking in the minds of consumers.

“It has (become) quite a business,” says Don Terbush, director of film and tv music at Universal Music Enterprises. “It’s an newer thing for labels to hire people whose sole purpose is to to pitch music to commercial, TV and film companies, music publishers have been doing it for a while.”

Perhaps as the ultimate recognition of the power of exposure on network TV, for unknown acts in particular, it’s a standard practice to give producers a song for a hugely reduced fee in exchange for an onscreen credit at the end of the show. Teen-targeted fare such as the WB’s “Felicity” and “Dawson’s Creek” consistently list what acts were featured in both the background and on the soundtrack.

In Japan, companies actually pay commercial producers to get their music in a spot. While the tables haven’t turned that much in the U.S., such a practice may not be far off.

“The synergy between record companies and advertisers is just beginning here,” says one music publisher. “Writers have always gotten screwed, so publishers are going to be more likely to sink in their heels and hold on to their rights.”

Because it can mean buying more outlets to reach a broad audience, advertisers love to bemoan the fragmentation of the TV audience in a world of 150-plus cable, network and Net channels. Ironically, that same fragmentation has made their job easier when it comes to focusing on a specific demo.

In turn, that means music choices for commercials can be that much more specific.

“Advertisers have realized that hitting the heartstrings of their target demos is reeling them in,” says Kathy Coleman, veep of film and TV at Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which controls, among others, the catalogs of the Beatles, Joni Mitchell, Lauryn Hill and Leonard Cohen.

Coleman says the linking of commercial pitches and pop music will be around for some time to come. “It’s a very efficient thing. Now when consumers hear a song on the radio, more often than not they’re asking: ‘What commercial did I hear that on?'”

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