John Mellencamp’s Chevy Song Prepares For Yet Another Backlash

Dec 26th, 2006 // 4 Comments

mellencamp.jpgAn article in today’s Wall Street Journal examines the future of John Mellencamp’s “Our Country,” which became the official song of Chevrolet in October; Mellencamp’s new album, which features the song, is slated for release next month. The long gap between those two events is causing some brow-furrowing among executives at Mellencamp’s label:

[E]xecutives at Mr. Mellencamp’s label, Universal Republic Records, worry that with the ad saturating television broadcasts for nearly six months before the release of the new album, some fans could sour on the song. A commercial-length excerpt of a song may not allow listeners to appreciate its nuances. “Exposure is one of the most valuable assets there is these days,” says Universal Republic President Monte Lipman. “But when you hear the song in the context of a commercial, it doesn’t do it justice.”

Indeed, backlash may be setting in. The ads have already inspired at least one parody video on YouTube, substituting pictures from the Abu Ghraib prisoner-abuse scandal, guys with beer guts and other unflattering aspects of America — with Mr. Mellencamp’s song in the background.

Mass exposure can be especially hard to come by for an artist like Mr. Mellencamp, whose best commercial days may be behind him. His last studio album, 2003′s “Trouble No More,” has sold just 180,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That is a far cry from his two biggest hits, “American Fool” and “Scarecrow,” both of which have shipped more than five million copies, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Universal Republic has sold 39,000 digital downloads of “Our Country” via the iTunes Music Store and other outlets, according to SoundScan.

Taking Chevrolet’s exposure–and money–must have initially seemed like a win-win situation for Mellencamp, who, like many other aging rockers, falls into a limbo: he’s too old to get spins on mainstream rock radio, but his songs are too new to get much love from classic-rock outlets. Later in the article, a Universal bigwig notes that a few Mellencamp songs will be sent to country radio as well as rock radio; while that sort of radio blitz has given a second life to artists like Bon Jovi, we can’t help but think it’s a curious move for this particular album, what with the politically charged hand-wringing and sellout accusations “Our Country” and its video have already inspired. Which is why the timing of this campaign is probably going to backfire on Mellencamp and Universal; unless the Chevy ads start appending grinning mugs of Mellencamp and “Album in stores this January!!!” to their product shots, we don’t see how this long run-up to an album’s release date can translate into SoundScans.

After a Song Is Featured in a Chevy Ad, Will Consumers Still Buy the Album? [WSJ]

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  1. Ray Wert

    This is our country, this is our sales strategy.

  2. jrhmobile

    The label should worry about people souring on Mellencamp’s music. But not because of its airtime as background music for Chevy Trucks. I’ve been bombarded on my favorite AOR station with “Our Country” on a depressingly heavy rotation.

    The song is marginally tolerable in a :60 spot, but listening to this mewling, whining and repetitive dirge for three or four minutes is insufferable. I have broad tastes in music, but “Our Country” is so bad that I change the station.

  3. Chris Molanphy

    Word to jrhmobile. Mellencamp’s got a mortgage to pay, I guess, but this is unforgiveable and a sellout – not to Madison Avenue so much as to the kind of politically ostrich-like, America’s-always-great bonehead he’s been righteously railing against his entire career.

    As for sales potential: The songs that appear in ads and spur the biggest CDs-sales boosts come from albums that have been in stores a few months and are a little sleepy - think Sting’s Brand New Day after the Jaguar “Desert Rose” ad; or Moby’s Play months after its release, when its multisong ad blitz kicked in. You can get a modest hit after the fact if you release a disc quickly – anyone remember Dirty Vegas, whose “Days Go By” was in that Mitsubishi ad and whose album briefly visited the Top 10? But this months-long delay for Mellencamp is probably going to kill whatever momentum he had, making the commercial both a cred-killing sellout and useless as a sales-booster. Sad.

  4. bombarded on my favorite AOR station with “Our Country” on a depressingly heavy rotation.

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