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UK freelance journalist and author Sean McManus

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Gwen Stefani's licence to print money

30 October 2007

I pass this billboard on my way to work every day:

Photo of Billboard showing Gwen Stefani promoting printers

Ten years ago, someone like Gwen Stefani would have been promoting some variety of fizzy drink. This billboard, in which she becomes the face of HP printers, shows how artists are being creative in finding new revenue streams as CD sales fall. It's also interesting to see something as mundane as a printer being sold as stylish, in the way that the cars and alcohol on neighbouring billboards are. Apple's been in the furniture business for some time, selling computers on how they look rather than how they work, but they've been the exception rather than the rule.

This deal is a win-win because it enables Gwen to market her image without compromising her ideals (there's no junk food on her rider). HP benefits by associating Gwen's colourful image with its printers and drawing attention to them. I don't remember seeing an advert for rival printers on the street. Maybe HP's competitors don't even advertise because they don't have a campaign worth shouting about.

The Spice Girls have also struck a smart deal. They have sold half a million copies of their forthcoming greatest hits CD to pants firm Victoria's Secret. It's firm sale, so the shop can't return them if there's no demand. That's a pretty good pre-order level for a pop band that disappeared six years ago. Victoria's Secret benefits from some brand association, but more importantly will get customers coming into the shop to buy the CD who might never otherwise have stepped foot inside. I'm guessing that Spice Girls and posh pants customers are a similar demographic.

It seems everything is up for grabs in the music industry, with Radiohead even inspiring Sir Cliff Richard to experiment with demand-sensitive pricing. (Radiohead reportedly made $6 million on day one, incidentally). Madonna has followed Robbie Williams and signed a deal that combines touring and merchandising with music sales. For artists with their best (or at least most popular) work behind them, such deals are good business sense.

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Interesting that you perceive a printer to be mundane, but alcohol stylish - surely it's only stylish because of the ad spend on it over the last few decades. HP are simply catching up. Eventually, everything will be stylish. That's almost Warholian...

Also, isn't it odd that the Spice Girls are teaming up with a brand named after just one of them. Do you think that may have caused ructions? I bet their 'people' are desperately looking for equivalent products named after the others. just to sooth battered egos. And they'll have to find two Melanies.
Hi Tim.

Thanks for your comment. I meant that printers are being sold as stylish, in the way that alcohol and cars are sold as being stylish. I don't believe that alcohol and cars are stylish, myself.

You're right, though. Perhaps I do think of printers as mundane because I haven't had any conditioning through advertising to think otherwise. Interesting that the printer itself (probably a square, off-white box) doesn't feature in the ad. Perhaps all of its style is in the perception and none in the design (unlike Apple, where the kit looks stylish too).

Perhaps Geri could advertise Ginger Beer, Emma could advertise a watered down tabasco sauce for kids (Baby Spice), Mel B could advertise insecticide (bee?) and Mel C could advertise P&O.
Yes, its seems like a CD is more of a promotional item than an income source. I agree with your other article that you must give away free music downloads too.

For instance, eventually musicians on the web will catch on to all the affiliate sales and adsense income they have missed out on by not having their own website and adding to myspace's asset instead of their own.

DanoSongs.com - Free Music Downloads
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