New Tack in Tough Times
Reuters presents today one of the most interesting articles in the last weeks, focusing on all the major recent events in Madonna’s career, from Gap to Roses, including all kinds of Love Profusion(s).
New Tack in Tough Times
As she closed her headline-grabbing performance at the MTV Video Music Awards in New York last week, Madonna rallied co-stars Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott in something of a battle cry.
“Music stations always play the same song!” she yelled defiantly. “We’re bored with the concept of right and wrong.”
These are indeed tough times for the sagging music business – and even for its icons – but Madonna appears stoked for a fight. Slashed promo budgets, retail erosion, online music sharing and narrowing radio playlists are nothing she won’t attempt to conquer with a quick rewrite of the pop marketing handbook.
She’s everywhere at the moment via some quite unexpected alliances – and that’s precisely the point.
Since mid-summer, Madonna has been the centerpiece of Gap‘s high-stakes back-to-school commercials. Her new song, “Love Profusion,” frames an elegant fall campaign for cosmetics giant Estee Lauder that bows in movie theaters this month before moving to television. And her children’s book, “The English Roses,” debuts Sept. 15 amid a huge promotion in more than 500 Gap Kids stores as well as bookstores, Amazon.com and other outlets.
Gap, Estee Lauder, kids books, lip-locking with nubile pop starlets on MTV and dancing alongside hip-hop goddess Elliott (also her Gap co-star) doesn’t just keep fans guessing. It means Madonna covers just about every major demographic – all while giving herself a career-enhancing makeover and earning millions for it.
Those sunny Gap commercials – during which she and Elliott playfully one-up each other then bump “M”-initialed back pockets – have pretty much erased all memory of the militaristic image she inhabited just a few months ago while launching her latest album, the so-so-selling “American Life.”
“It’s a huge contrast,” says Jordan Kaplan, professor of marketing and managerial science at Long Island University in Brooklyn, N.Y. “She misread the times, and now she’s using the Gap to reintroduce herself. It’s a no-cost, no-lose strategy.”
But the TV ads are just the start. Once inside the store, consumers can’t miss the special promo CD, “Get Into the Hollywood Groove,” the music heard in the commercial. The Elliott-mixed track melds the recent Madonna single “Hollywood” and a rerecorded version of her 1985 classic “Into the Groove.” The disc also includes a special stand-alone version of the “Hollywood” single, but it isn’t for sale anywhere. Rather, it’s a giveaway, handed to everyone who buys a pair of corduroys.
“The music business has been a certain way for many years, and it’s changing rapidly,” says Caresse Henry, a partner in Caliente Entertainment and Madonna’s manager. “Everyone is trying to figure out, how do we restructure 35 years of doing business? It’s a process, but I do believe many (of us) have realized it’s time for a change. The traditional music video and promo that you do behind an album is just not enough.”
Whether it’s CDs hidden in drink lids at the movies, songs sent to mobile phones or posters in cereal boxes, it’s been anything goes for a while now.
What still continues to work well, Henry says, is “the unexpected – something we always like to do with Madonna.”
With 20 years of superstardom behind her, Madonna, 45, hasn’t plugged a product in the United States since her 1989 “Like a Prayer” deal with Pepsi, which ended abruptly when the song was deemed anti-church. Her move back into this world wasn’t made lightly.
Trey Laird, whose New York agency Laird + Partners created the Gap campaign, says timing, circumstances and “fit” are what count most when big stars enter into endorsements.
“Too often, an agency or a brand picks someone for not a good enough reason,” says Laird, whose agency also handles the Donna Karan brand. “There’s nothing worse than totally transforming someone into a spokesmodel holding up a can. It never feels true.
“We wanted this to have an edge – an edge that was right for the brand and right for Madonna and Missy,” Laird says. “And we really wanted them to be themselves. Gap is about simple clothing that you make your own. There aren’t too many companies that, when they’re developing a big campaign, will allow (a celebrity’s) personal style to come through.”
Although sales of “American Life,” which debuted in the spring at No. 1 but slid off the charts last month after just 14 weeks, have not sparked since the Gap commercials began July 30, Madonna’s MTV stunt might change that. But Kaplan, the marketing expert, says her current activities aren’t “about the album.”
“It’s about her,” Kaplan says. “I wouldn’t say she’s reinventing herself, but she is making a very skilled transition. She’s going up and down the age chain. The girls who followed her in their teens are now mothers shopping at Gap Kids. It’s very shrewd. It’s good for the Gap, and it’s good for Madonna.”
Although the campaign is too recent for hard sales numbers, retail analysts confirm Gap reports of high traffic in stores last month. After years of slowing sales, the chain has been on an upswing all year, reporting a 13% increase in sales from last year. Without commenting on Madonna’s MTV performance, the company said it remains pleased with the ads.
The promo partnership also has suited Elliott, whose recent image revamp has broadened her appeal beyond the hip-hop market. Elliott’s manager, Mona Scott, says the affiliation with Gap, Madonna and Madonna’s music in the studio has brought her client new fans.
“It all puts you out there in a much bigger, broader way than would be possible just relying on the label budgets,” says Scott, a partner in New York-based Violator Management. “And it’s one of the few additional income streams artists have. It’s just a very interesting time.”
In fact, endorsement arrangements deemed unthinkable just a few years ago are now so commonplace they attract little criticism within the music industry. Most agree it was Sting who kicked the door wide open when he stormed the charts with his 2000 single “Desert Rose” — only after placing the song and himself in a moody Jaguar commercial.
“He did it with class,” Henry says.
Since then, some of the industry’s biggest names have joined him. Celine Dion even launched an entire album and new image on the back of a Chrysler campaign earlier this year. The glossy ads, which emphasized the concerned mother she is now, were far more efficient than chasing diminishing returns on pop radio. Automakers and other top advertisers make such huge media buys, celebrities who align with them can’t help but be seen.
“It is no longer about the traditional paths to people’s brains,” says Kevin Gore, executive vp sales and marketing at Warner Strategic Marketing, a catalog house that has been on a winning streak lately with hits sets from Fleetwood Mac, Cher and James Taylor.
Whether any of the music industry’s old or new routes to the consumer will hold is anyone’s guess. But count on Madonna and other tenacious performers to keep experimenting.
Says Kaplan: “You either get in directly or indirectly, but you get in.”