Chevrolet pleased with ads, but CD sales hit pothole: Mellencamp is selling trucks, but not tunes

Hoosier rocker John Mellencamp is helping Chevrolet sell more trucks, but he’s having less luck when it comes to selling his records.

In November, Mellencamp embarked on his first major commercial campaign, selling his song “Our Country” to Chevrolet for its Silverado pickup truck campaign.

Since then, tens of millions of people have seen commercials-some that show Mellencamp playing guitar, while others simply play his song-during myriad collegiate and professional basketball and football games.

Chevrolet officials said the commercials featuring Mellencamp’s song are such a hit on television, they plan to run the campaign indefinitely.

“Since we started this campaign during the fourth quarter of 2006, our research shows that driver consideration [for purchasing a Silverado] is up four points,” said Brian Goebel, Chevrolet’s communications manager. “It’s a considerable increase.”

Though it’s a bit early to tell, Chevrolet officials are confident the campaign will translate into increased sales when the data is tabulated.

Leading up to the campaign, Mellencamp, who turns 56 next month, told the media the decision to partner with Chevrolet was as much about selling his record as selling trucks.

Mellencamp and his manager did not return calls seeking comment for this article.

Mellencamp has complained that it’s more difficult to reach a significant audience through radio play these days and almost impossible for singers of his generation to get their music videos on television.

Shortly after the release of his latest CD, “Freedom’s Road,” Mellencamp’s strategy appeared to be working. Early this year, the CD debuted at No. 5 on Billboard magazine’s top 200, the highest a Mellencamp album or CD had ever entered the charts.

But after a few weeks, the sale of “Freedom’s Road” fizzled, with just 185,000 sold to date, according to New York-based Nielsen SoundScan, the company that tracks CD sales for Billboard.

Mellencamp said he was inspired to do the Chevrolet commercial after lackluster sales of his “Cuttin’ Head” CD, which was critically acclaimed, but sold only 465,000 copies, according to Nielsen figures. After releasing “Cuttin’ Head,” Mellencamp went on his longest hiatus-six years-since emerging on the music scene 25 years ago.

Mellencamp’s most recent record sales pale in comparison to his earlier forays, including “American Fool” and “Scarecrow,” which each sold more than 5 million copies. Even Mellencamp’s compilation hits release “The Best that I Could Do”- released in 1997-sold 2.2 million copies.

“This industry is going through a huge historical change,” said A.J. Correale, former legal counsel for record labels Sony Music and EMI Records, who now heads up the Entertainment Division in the local law office of Ice Miller. “Record sales are plummeting across the board as people’s attentions are divided by things like the proliferation of video games and cable TV.”

Record sales nationwide were down 20 percent during the first quarter of 2007, according to Nielsen SoundScan. Fewer CDs have been sold each year since 2002.

Music fans’ ability to download music from the Internet-some legally and some illegally-also has hurt record sales, Correale said.

“John has taken a few barbs of criticism for doing what he’s doing, but this isn’t 20 years ago,” Correale said. “A lot of performers are trying to branch out.”

Though Mellencamp was a staunch opponent of musicians partnering with corporate interests for much of the past two decades, Randy Schwoerer, who formerly ran a locally based sports and entertainment consultancy, thinks Mellencamp made the right move in partnering with Chevrolet.

“I thought the commercial really hit the spot and helped [Mellencamp’s] image,” said Schwoerer, who now manages the Sanger Theatre in Mobile, Ala.

Despite the perceived image boost, Correale thinks Mellencamp’s upcoming tour will have to give “Freedom’s Road” a big boost even to catch “Cuttin’ Heads.”

CD sales generally peak within the first few months of a release before slowing dramatically, Correale said. Only rarely does an artist’s record sales pick up significant steam more than six months after a release, he added.

Mellencamp kicks off his tour in Terre Haute Oct. 25. The 14-stop Midwestern tour comes to Conseco Fieldhouse Nov. 3.

Greg Andrews is on vacation. His column will return next week.

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