The Sting/Jaguar love story is a curious one, one which will have repercussions on a mainstream music industry that is seeing its already crumbling credibility disintegrate faster than Sting’s songwriting capabilities.
Sting’s 2000 release “Brand New Day” and its marginal title track lead single failed to jump-start a career that had been stuck in neutral since at least 1995. What was to be done? The sour-pussed rocker himself wanted to release the world pop-ish “Desert Rose” as the next single. But radio put on the ki-bosh, balking at the song’s Arabic intro (sung by rai superstar Cheb Mami).
“Desert Rose” would’ve gone into the poor man’s Peter Gabriel bin, if not for some clever whoring on the part of Sting and his handlers.
The former Police bassist had already chosen the Jaguar S-TYPE as his ride of choice in the video for “Desert Rose,” believing that the car “evoke[d] the feeling and style of success we were trying to achieve.”
And — wouldn’t you know it? — a collaboration with ol’ Sting and his feeling of style and success was perfect for Jaguar’s domestic S-TYPE branding strategy.
Al Saltiel, general marketing manger for Jaguar, expounded about why his company jumped into bed with the fading rockstar and his desperate attempt for “Desert Rose” airplay. “One of our key strategic goals is to reach a broader market. We believe this campaign will help us do that.”
Sting got his wish after the ad began airing in the US. People hearing the song’s swirling, Pier One-esque Arab vocal and worldbeat polyrhythms quickly began requesting it on their local AAA/Adult Contemporary radio outlets.
It’s amazing how a song’s relationship to a particular product’s branding strategy will help it achieve heights never imagined by the artist. Famous vegan Moby’s compositions from his Play LP are some of the most-licensed songs of all time, with top-drawer clients including Nordstrom’s and Nike. After those and other spots featured such tracks as “Natural Blues” and “Honey,” Moby found himself at the top of the Modern Rock heap, appearing on various MTV incarnations as well as The Grammys. It’s a pretty safe bet that without the ad tie-ins, Play’s downtempo beats and Americana sampling wouldn’t have been heard by anyone other than NYC hipsters and people with large headphones on subways. Instead, mid-American teenyboppers, insecure female urban professionals in their 30s and soundtrack buyers all pooled their efforts to push the album into gold status and beyond. Information wasn’t available on how many Jaguar S-TYPE’s were purchased as a result of seeing Sting’s tush in one.
Moby is somewhat off the hook in the sell-out category, as he hasn’t compromised his famously activistic tendencies in the wake of his music’s sudden mainstream acceptance. Sting, on the other hand, should be kicked in the shins. No matter how much he loves “Desert Rose” and its mindless Cost Plus World Market approach to international pop, fully shilling it out to Jaguar to hawk their mid-priced sedan to Sting’s fanbase of rapidly aging, boring professionals is reprehensible. And the sad thing is that this sort of overt payola will most likely continue in an age of all- powerful brand strategies and impeccably researched product positioning. If an artist’s music fits a particular brand’s message, then offer him cash and hope he needs a career boost. Ideally, the product sells, the song gets adds on radio, and everyone gets real paid. Not a bad system, until a song with real vitality (i.e. not Sting’s blase bore-core) gets the marketing treatment.