With Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine's Beats By Dre opening up a celebrity-headphone trend that has since attracted the likes of 50 Cent, Ludacris, Xzibit and even Pauly D from Jersey Shore, the door for a country act to enter the crowded marketplace has quietly remained wide open.
Enter Tim McGraw, who on Thursday unveiled a pair of custom-designed headphones created with Harman International's JBL Artist Series. An on-ear set of studio headphones will sell for a suggested retail price of $129.95, while a set of in-ear noise-canceling headphones will sell for a suggested retail price of $49.95.
The unique opportunity to bring a country star like McGraw to the headphone market was not lost on Harman International's chief marketing officer Jeff Willard. "If you think about country music fans, they've been somewhat forgotten by the audio industry," he says. "When you think about how many headphones you've ever seen tuned for the country music fan, it's probably zero, despite the fact that 95 million Americans are country music fans, or 42% of the population… If you're a country music fan, you probably don't want to be seen with hip-hop headphones. It doesn't make the right fashion statement."
McGraw is also appearing in a full-scale ad campaign for JBL as part of its Hear the Truth campaign. New TV spots starring the singer, directed by Barry Levison ("Diner," "Wag the Dog") and created with JBL's ad agency Doner, debuted this week. "You might as well be in the band when you listen to those things," McGraw says at one point in the spot.
The campaign will extend to print, online and a co-sponsorship of McGraw's Brothers of the Sun tour with Kenny Chesney, where JBL will host ticket giveaways and activate with signage at each stop. Additionally, McGraw's headphones have already attracted global interest from India and China, where the products will soon be available.
McGraw is the latest in a growing line of Harman International's superstar spokespeople. Since JBL's Hear The Truth campaign debuted in September 2011with Maroon 5 and A.R. Rahman, Harman has since teamed with the likes of Jennifer Lopez (Harman Kardon home stereos), Quincy Jones (a signature line of AKG headphones) and, most notably, Paul McCartney, in his first-ever custom-shot ad campaign for Hear the Truth that premiered during the Grammys.
"We obviously know others have done this," Willard says of the endorsement strategy. "The fundamental difference is we are not asking anyone to endorse our product that doesn't use it in the industrial sense. It's not like we're going to sell you a soft drink you might not ever use. We're asking to endorse something you use on stage everyday. That's why you see artists that haven't done an audio deal before."