SRO For Brands On The Country Music Bandwagon

Country singer, Lee Ann WomackBanquet has become the latest in a stampede of brands hitching their wagons to country music stars and down-home themes. The ConAgra brand has signed Lee Ann Womack to be the face of its new line of value-priced ($1.50), health-oriented frozen dinners, Banquet Select Recipes.

Banquet, which also used Womack to promote its Banquet 400 Nascar race in 2003, introduced Select Recipes last month as a move to revitalize the brand, which has received minimal advertising support in recent years. Banquet sales were up in ConAgra's just-ended fiscal first quarter '09, but its pot pie sales plummeted last year after a product recall. The new Select Recipes campaign, themed "So Good for So Little," kicks off this week with Banquet sponsoring the play of a single from Womack's new album on music stations nationwide.



Associating a brand with country music and culture has been a big trend for years now, of course, but it appears to be getting even stronger. Looking at food brands alone, here are just a few of the other hook-ups announced since July:

* Libby's using Sara Evans to promote September as "National Get Back to the Table Month."

* Tyson Foods, Inc. donating a pound of fried chicken to America's Second Harvest for each person who clicked on a donation box on the Web site for CMT's "Country Fried Home Video" television show.

* Milky Way cruising the country over the summer in a refurbished 1970s-era station wagon, bringing "Country Karaoke," family photos and product sampling to local fairs and festivals (particularly in the Midwest) to celebrate the brand's 85th birthday. Milky Way also sponsored this year's Great American Country Tour Bus, which stopped at large country music events across the country during the summer. Music fans sampled Milky Way products while listening to country artists.

Why the upsurge? Country's overall reach is an obvious draw: Nearly 55% of U.S. women and 45% of men are country music listeners, according to the Country Music Association. And while whites/Caucasians still represent about 93% of country fans, the other 7% are African-Americans, Hispanics and other ethnicities.

"Country is becoming bigger and more attractive to both whites and non-whites, and it's going to get even bigger," observes Roberto Ramos, president and CEO of New York ad agency The Vox Collective. He points to a growing number of crossover artists, as well as NBC's launch of "Nashville Star"-and its multiethnic range of participants.

"Country is finally all-American," Ramos says--pointing out that current tough economic times, in addition to the pace of daily life and post-9/11 stress, are making Americans long more than ever for all things that speak to simpler, more authentic times. "As a result, New York professionals welcome a restaurant called Hill Country, and Texas hold 'em poker becomes one of the most played games online, as well as watched on ESPN," he notes.

And of course, the elections are also adding to the country theme momentum, "as both Republicans and Democrats need to speak to that other disenfranchised group, the rural white," Ramos points out.

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