Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Mariah Carey Ad Controversy

Detouring momentarily from my series on "selling stuff," I wanted to put down a few thoughts on the idea of including a mini-magazine, complete with ads, in CD packages and attached to digital albums.
The first deal, created for the Mariah Carey release Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel on Sept. 15, is a 34-page co-production with Elle magazine that includes lifestyle ads from Elizabeth Arden, Angel Champagne, Carmen Steffens, Le Metier de Beaute and the Bahamas Board of Tourism. Providing the experiment goes well, the label is eyeing bigger brand deals for booklets of CDs by Rihanna, Bon Jovi, Kanye West and other artists. "The Monetization of Mimi: Mariah CD to Have Ads," Brandweek, 8/1/09
The reaction has been very negative in most circles. Typical comments: Greedy labels. Crossing the line between art and music. Foisting ads on a public that doesn't want them and is already paying for the music.

Being the marketing person that I am, and a strong believer in sponsorship support of sports, music, art, and non-profits, I don't have a problem with the concept. But I see a lot of problems with how it has been presented in the media and, as a consequence, how it is being perceived among music fans and critics.

I'll point to this as the primary offending comment:
“The idea was really simple thinking: ‘We sell millions of records, so you should advertise with us,’” said Antonio “L.A.” Reid, chairman, Island Def Jam Music Group, a unit of Universal Music Group. “My artists have substantial circulation—when you sell 2 million, 5 million, 8 million, that’s a lot of eyeballs. Most magazines aren’t as successful as those records.”
There is nothing being said about benefits for fans. How does this promotional package bring value to them? If it is being done well, it should be offering something to them. Discounts? Limited edition offerings? Unique content?

This is as close to fan value as it gets:
The mini magazine contains Mariah-centric editorial (“VIP Access to Her Sexy Love Life,” “Amazing Closet,” “Recording Rituals”) and lifestyle advertising along with lyrics and other CD booklet elements. Elle contributed the editorial and designed the layout.
Granted this article was directed to advertisers and marketing professionals rather than fans, but even so, why is this idea being touted as a way to benefit labels rather as a way to improve the relationship between fans and artists? Why is it being sold as another form of print advertising rather than something else?

On the other hand, maybe we should give credit to Reid for being honest rather than trying to spin the story. In a world where product placement on TV and in movies is common, where there are weekly promotional tie-ins with fast food kids' meals, and where print magazines have long looked for added value packages to offer advertisers, this development is basically business-as-usual. He's touting the millions of eyeballs that these ads will reach, which has been the premise of mass media advertising. And perhaps the fan base for mass market artists is so used to non-stop ads that they aren't offended anyway.

Unfortunately, instead of being accepted by fans/critics as business-as-usual, the concept seems to highlight everything that is perceived to be wrong about major labels, celebrity culture, and mass marketing.

If this had been an independent artist or even one on a small label, the reaction might have been more favorable. Sponsorship and advertising have long gone hand-in-hand in action sports, so I feel the right pairing will be accepted in music as well.

And if this had been presented as a benefit to fans and as a way to support an artist and/or cause, I also believe the reaction would have been different.

Therefore, my advice to anyone exploring music-related sponsorships and advertising: Put the fans first. Don't bother to do it if they don't benefit. When you are touting the idea to the press, if you can't come up with a single fan-focused aspect to your promotion, this is not the right project for you to pursue.

Suzanne Lainson
@slainson on Twitter


  1. My sentiments exactly.

    I'm actually watching this unfold with great interest, partly because of the sheer novelty of the idea, partly because it seems to me to have a lot of potential to provide value-added to the physical release.

    Keeping with the Carey example, the editorial could provide attractive information for the involved Carey fan, while well-thought out advertising could be used to, for example, show how one can get that Mariah look (and I'm certain there are girls out there who'd like that sort of information). The scope for fan-goodies is very broad.

    Having said that, I am no less amazed than you that so little mention of customer-value was given in the announcement. This is an opportunity not only to cash in on the ads, but also on the higher margin of a physical copy. As things stand, when everything you say gets immediate comment on the Internet, Carey fans may be left with an impression that they are expected to pay for a bunch of ads.

  2. Good comments here Suzanne. My first response to the announcement was something like: "that's really smart from a business perspective, but not so smart from the consumer's perspective."

    This guy in the Hypebot comments section is on point: "I think that we need to be a bit careful in whether our reactions to new music business ideas, especially those from the big music business that we love to hate, are knee-jerk reactions. We send the message that the RIAA-labels are irrelevant because they didn't innovate, then we criticize them when they try to innovate."

    Cheers Suzanne.

  3. Let's wait to see what the fans have to say. Remember, theses are Mariah Carey fans, people who read magazines like Elle! I think most of them will see it as like a special edition issue of Elle all about Mariah. Plus, take a look at the alternative: a regular CD booklet with the same old stuff in it.

    If it feels like a magazine, then I think people won't even think twice that there are ads in it. In fact, they will expect it!

    I guess what I'm saying is that I think it is a right pairing.


  4. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  5. I got interested in sponsorships because of sports. My daughters trained with Olympic figure skaters, so I was immersed in the culture. Skating fans would love to see a special magazine devoted to their favorite skater. And they are also thrilled when skaters pick up endorsement deals.

    So yes, I think a Mariah Carey magazine may very well please her fans.

  6. Much to do about nothing! Let Mariah Carey connect with her fans. LA Reid is upfront with their promotion approach. We're in a global shrinking recession economy so this is the survival of the fittest. Let the music do the talking.


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