Branding campaign meant to take stigma off country music

Wednesday, May 2nd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ The country music industry will try to overcome a persistent inferiority complex with a self-deprecating advertising campaign aimed at encouraging fans to be proud and vocal.

The slogan is ``Country. Admit it. You love it.''

The campaign is the result of consumer research that found that many music fans hesitate to admit they love the music of performers like Alan Jackson, the Dixie Chicks and Tim McGraw.

``There was one young woman in Dallas in one of the focus groups that said, `I listen to country music in my car, but if I pull up at a traffic light and I see someone cool pull up next to me, I'll hit the button and change the station,''' said Ed Benson, executive director of the Country Music Association, the industry's trade group.

``People talk about music together, and we've always known in our business that word of mouth is really a prime way for people to find out about music.''

The campaign by the CMA, targeting listeners between the ages of 18-34, will appear as soon as the fall in TV, print and billboard advertising. The association hopes country stars and other celebrities who enjoy country music will participate.

The CMA will spend more than $2 million on research and advertising buys, and is hoping record companies and other Nashville businesses will use the theme in their own ads.

The advertising firm GSD&M, of Austin, Texas, which was hired to do consumer research, put together focus groups in Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Los Angeles and Nashville to determine just how country music stood with consumers.

Benson had feared that the very word ``country'' was a turnoff to many consumers because of rural stereotypes. That didn't turn out to be the case.

``Country music came up very, very strong on two things people look for from music _ connection to their roots and helping them express emotion,'' he said.

Two other areas, how the music helped fans interact with others and the self-image of country music fans, got more troubling results.

``People didn't think their friends were country music fans,'' Benson said. ``They didn't think that people who listened to country music were like them at all. ... These same people had country music songs and artists who they related to very strongly.''

If the campaign is successful, Benson hopes it will push the industry to be more accepting of new, exciting talent.

``If you can make it more acceptable for younger audiences, what does that do?'' he asked.

``They challenge the system. They challenge broadcasters. They're going to go exploring, and they're going to demand that people provide them with music that turns them on.''