Historically, the Rolling Stones have never needed much help selling their music. But this month the group witnessed a notable bump in digital single sales for a pair of songs, thanks to the release of the latest installment in the popular "Call of Duty" videogame franchise.
"Call of Duty: Black Ops" was released Nov. 9. But more than a week earlier, on Oct. 31, Santa Monica, Calif.-based publisher Activision released an ad for TV and the Internet featuring a montage of the game's cinematic cut scenes with the Stones' "Gimme Shelter" as the soundtrack. The ad appeared during several prime-time TV shows and on several game enthusiast websites, garnering more than 3 million views on YouTube alone.
The game itself set a new record for opening-day videogame sales, with 5.6 million copies and $360 million in sales (including all pre-orders), according to Activision. To shed some perspective on how popular the "Call of Duty" franchise is, the previous record for single-day sales was the last installment of the same game -- "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare" -- which last year sold 4.7 million copies and rang up $310 million in opening-day sales.
On the strength of the exposure provided by the new "Call of Duty" ad, track sales for "Gimme Shelter" jumped from slightly more than 2,000 copies the week of Oct. 31 to 5,000-plus for the following week, then doubled to nearly 11,000 for the week ending Nov. 14, according to Nielsen SoundScan.
According to Activision VP of music affairs Tim Riley, scoring "Gimme Shelter" for the ad was no small feat. New York-based ABKCO Music & Records holds the rights to the song and, as is common with synch licensing negotiations, wanted to view an early edit of the ad before granting permission. So Activision flew to New York to show the clip on a secure laptop rather than risk sending it digitally lest it become discovered by the rabid game press. What's more, for the first time in Activision history, it allowed another company to make edits to the ad itself in order to obtain approval from the band members as well.
"It's such a big deal, such a serious song and such a big band . . . we had to fly out for it," Riley says. "They certainly say 'no' more than they say 'yes.' It's the Rolling Stones. It's not like they need the money."
It's not the group's only involvement in the game. "Sympathy for the Devil" was licensed as background music for a scene inside the game as well, which helped double that song's weekly sales to nearly 5,000 for the week of Nov. 14.
And it won't be the last, either. Riley notes another element is coming. But he wouldn't reveal whether it's a song licensed for new game content, another ad or some other use.