British rockers looking to enter American ad market

When ABC execs chose Coldplay’s “Yellow” as the score to the web’s ad campaign last December, they probably weren’t aware that their new corporate anthem was inspired in part by a comically botched drug buy.

The foursome, who confessed at a recent live show to penning the song after spending a hefty sum for what turned out to be a tin of yellow custard powder, may not be the world’s savviest dealmakers. But they and an increasing number of British rockers are finding that licensing their work for ads, TV and films in the U.S. can be both lucrative and a big “in” to the American market.

Advertising and media execs, who hunt for just the right musical accompaniment to give their products the perfect cachet, are more than willing to accommodate them.

Leaping the Pond

U.K. artists such as Coldplay, singer-songwriter Badly Drawn Boy and pop star Robbie Williams are already well known on their side of the Pond but are looking for ways to reach U.S. fans without having to start from scratch.

Others are just looking to boost their visibility and earn a little cash while they’re at it.

Electronica vet Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, for example, has placed songs in car, film and sneaker ads, greatly boosting his profile with fans outside the urban dance music scene.

Ex-Spice Girl Geri Halliwell scored a hit with her cover of “It’s Raining Men” from the pic “Bridget Jones’s Diary,” and chanteuse Dido grabbed attention when “Here With Me” backed the opening credits of the WB series “Roswell.”

Ears via the eyes

For any artist seeking a fast track to American ears, a well-placed appearance on domestic TV can be more valuable than scores of plays on radio or even MTV, where the battles to get included on an increasingly limited playlist are fierce.

“We like to think of ourselves as the largest radio station in the world,” observes ABC’s senior VP of marketing, advertising and promotion Mike Benson, who says he first stumbled across Coldplay’s CD at a record store during a business trip in the U.K. “We can offer access to 160 million viewers a week, and the weird thing is we can break acts with that.”

Licensing music for use in ads, TV and films — otherwise known as synchronization, or sync — is a growing source of income for labels and artists. Since 1998, Capitol’s sync sales in the U.S. have swelled by 50%; in the U.K., sync sales for Capitol parent EMI grew by 30%.

“Ten years ago, sync was not considered the proactive tool it is today,” says EMI director of commercial markets Adrienne Dunlop. “Bands who were not even keen to get involved in films, and especially commercials, now realize the value they can provide.”

Sell-out factor

But artists still fret about being seen as sell-outs for taking money from networks or advertisers and for seeking too broad an audience.

In fact, after the placement of “Yellow,” Coldplay shied away from working with ABC on other collaborations, says Benson.

That means sync deals have to be negotiated carefully, on a case-by-case basis, and always with the artist’s sensitivities in mind, says Susan Genco, senior VP of operations for Capitol Records, the U.S. home of Coldplay and Williams.

In the case of hit rock quintet Radiohead, it took an offer from the Intl. Olympic Committee, which licensed the track “When It All Goes Wrong” for the 2002 Winter Games.

“There can be opportunities to market the music and still keep true to the artist’s vision,” Genco says.

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