Is Our Country Like A Rock?

Licensing songs for use in commercials is a way of life for most artists these days, but can the overexposure generated by a high profile ad campaign backfire and hurt album sales? Apparently, executives at John Mellencamp’s label, Universal Republic Records, are worried that it can do just that.

Mellencamp’s 21st studio album, Freedom’s Road, isn’t due out until January 23rd, but a 60-second clip of a song from the album Our Country has been featured in a massive and overtly patriotic ad campaign for Chevrolet’s Silverado trucks for the past six months. The exposure isn’t likely to end soon either; the campaign is scheduled for an indefinite run.

Universal execs are now concerned that much exposure, even in a commercial-length dose, has begun to take its toll.

"Exposure is one of the most valuable assets there is these days," Universal Republic President Monte Lipman told the Wall Street Journal. "But when you hear the song in the context of a commercial, it doesn’t do it justice."

The company’s fears aren’t without reason. Universal has sold a mere 39,000 digital downloads of the song through iTunes and other outlets according to Nielsen SoundScan. The ad has also inspired a parody on YouTube that substitutes some less-than-flattering images of America for the patriotic ones used in the original.

All of this has prompted Universal and Mellencamp to launch a counterattack. The company will deliver three or four cuts from the album to rock and country radio stations this week and the rest of the album soon after.

"The strategy is to get the album out into people’s hands as quickly as we can," Lipman said. "I don’t want the first introduction of a brilliant John Mellencamp album to be it’s just a commercial, or it’s a commercial."

Mellencamp is also planning to record a short interview to be delivered to radio stations in which he explains that he wrote "Our Country" as just another song and not as a jingle.

Chevy’s campaign, which industry insiders estimate would net an artist of Mellencamp’s stature $500,000 to $750,000, follows other successful campaigns that have used well known songs, including Led Zeppelin’s "Rock ’n’ Roll" for Cadillac and Bob Seger’s "Like a Rock" for Chevrolet’s long-running ad campaign. Unlike Mellencamp’s song, the other two were well-known long before becoming jingles.

Using licensing deals to promote a new album can be a much trickier business. Moby licensed every song from his 1999 album Play to great success. However, Jewel’s 2003 song "Intuition" from her album 0304 was used in a campaign for Schick’s Intuition razor and the move kicked up a storm of criticism in the press and with other artists.

Despite Schick financially backing the album, it sold only a tenth of Jewel’s debut.