Licensing Agency: Turning Celebrity into Product Sales

The economy may be stumbling in the dark, but in the gloom, one avenue of commerce shines brightly. That avenue is licensed merchandise, and we don’t mean only sports paraphenalia.  Sales of clothing and other items bearing the logos of professional sports teams and the numbers of star players have plodded along respectably even in lackluster economies.  We’re not talking about the tried and true.  We’re talking about brands driven by the hottest artists in commercial music, performers that often burn as brightly and as ephemerally as Halley’s Comet.

Why, then, do retailers gobble up such merchandise as if it were their last meal?  Why make such risky investments in something that is here today and often gone tomorrow?

A peek back in time, at the machine that initiated these fleeting but lucrative markets, will illuminate the rationale behind such investments.   In the early 90s, the small group of investors that evolved into the company known as Clear Channel gobbled up the majority of commercial radio stations nationwide.   They did so with one aim, and it wasn’t to promote good music; it was to make the fastest buck possible.

The company principals, who had earlier underwritten auto dealerships, viewed songs (singles) as they did cars; that is, as units to be retailed.  They reasoned that if they could achieve rapid market acceptance (turnover) of songs, they stood to make the most money from advertisers.  To ensure that they did, Clear Channel instituted playlists.

Playlists were commands to spin only designated songs on the radio.  Discerning, music-savvy DJs no longer chose the music that America heard over the airwaves.   The new songs had to be loud, overproduced, and generally devoid of human emotion.  Because the playlists were so limited, the same twenty or so songs got spun over the course of a day, a week, a month.

Audiences became inured to this restricted menu, birthing an atmosphere for the introduction of new artists, even those of dubious talent, to hit the airwaves and gain celebrity.  With little else to choose from, these celebs and their songs inevitably became huge hits.

All of this occurred just prior to the explosion of the Internet: perfect timing for the perfect marketing storm.

These newly-minted artists became more important than their music (think: Miley Cyrus).  In other words, the performers became the stuff of which marketing directors’ dreams are made.  All the marketing mavens had to do was promote the public personas of the artists to sell product.

How did they achieve this?  Stay tuned for the answer!

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