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Why Mariah Carey's Selling Ads in a CD Package Isn't Selling Out

The music industry may not be the first to turn to the advertising industry to fill its revenue gap, but there's something to what Brandweek reported yesterday: that Mariah Carey's forthcoming album, "Memoirs of an Imperfect Angel" will include a "a 34-page co-production with Elle magazine that includes lifestyle ads from Elizabeth Arden, Angel Champagne, Carmen Steffens, Le Métier de Beauté and the Bahamas Board of Tourism."

And that's only the beginning. Carey's label, Universal Music's Island Def Jam, may expand the program to new releases from Rihanna, Bon Jovi and Kanye West, among others. (To complete the virtuous -- or is it? -- circle, a non CD-specific version of the Mariah mini-magazine will be inserted into October issue's of Elle.)

L.A. Reid, who runs Island Def Jam, told Brandweek the pitch:

We sell millions of records, so you should advertise with us. My artists have substantial circulation--when you sell 2 million, 5 million, 8 million, that's a lot of eyeballs.
To which I say, "Duh!" and I mean that with all due respect to Monsieur Reid. What Reid is onto here is a concept that gets lost sometimes when people become too attached to older business models: that even as media options proliferate, sometimes we don't think of enough things as being mass media -- able to grant those advertisers who want to piggyback upon big crowds -- no matter how they are assembled -- the kind of reach that is harder to come by every day.

But let's look at this from the content company's point of view: Is this going to save the music industry? No. And, yes, there's a certain paradox in thinking about some artists as mass media, even as sales of their product continue to plummet, thus limiting their reach. Still, you have to applaud parlaying a simple idea into revenue. I asked Becky Ebenkamp, a former colleague who wrote the story, whether she thought this idea was a flash in the pan, or the real deal. She told me:

I think the idea could catch on. Let's face it, when someone discovers a new ad medium, whether that's a urinal, a dry cleaner's hanger, a pizza box or a piece of produce at the market, it doesn't stay blank for long. And we're already seeing marketing merge with music in so many other ways, from pop songs replacing jingles in TV ads to promo fliers falling out of CDs when we open them to rampant brand mentions in hip hop lyrics. In some cases, like Chris Brown's Wrigley gum deal, these are even paid endorsements!
It's been a long time since what Carey and her label are doing here has been viewed as selling out. In fact, these days, for some companies and musical acts, "selling out" may equal survival. While Carey certainly doesn't need the cash, what would be cool is if an idea like this could become a revenue stream for music's long tail of independent and up-and-coming artists. It hasn't worked for most long-tail content providers online, but hope springs eternal.
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