Female Country Artists' Branding Power Far Outweighs Their Airplay

Jewel, 2014.
Courtesy of ReThink


Female country artists may comprise a small fraction of playlist space on country radio right now, but their branding power is an entirely different story.

When global celebrity evaluation index Celebrity DBI recently listed the top six celebrity endorsers who were musicians, four were country acts, and three of those are female: Carrie Underwood, Reba McEntire and Faith Hill were listed alongside Blake Shelton and non-country acts Adele and Yolanda Adams.

Laura Hutfless, an agent in Creative Artists Agency’s Nashville office and its music brand partnership division, says, “Brands are engaging with female artists -- proven by the $25 million-plus [in] deals for female music artists CAA brokered in 2014 -- and they continue to spend with female talent at all levels, all ages, all demographics and all genres.”

CAA represents such female country and pop/country stars as Underwood, Hill, Kellie Pickler, Jewel, Martina McBride, Shania Twain, LeAnn Rimes, Kacey Musgraves, Cassadee Pope and newcomers Kelsea Ballerini and Mickey Guyton. The numerous recent deals it has put together include Underwood’s Calia workout line with Dick’s Sporting Goods; Pickler’s Pandora jewelry endorsement and the launch of her new home-goods line, Selma Drye, in conjunction with the Grand Ole Opry; and a cookbook deal for Little Big Town’s  Kimberly Schlapman, along with her upcoming line of home goods and kitchenware that retailers will start carrying in the fall. The agency also brokered a previous deal for Schlapman and bandmate Karen Fairchild to curate a home-goods line for retailer Joss and Main.

“Country artists are totally open to brand partnerships, probably more so than other genres,” says Hutfless. She says brands are primarily seeking artists to partner with who are perceived as relatable and trustworthy, have a high awareness level and have “an authentic connection and a voice. As females we do look to other women -- whether it’s girlfriends, sisters, moms or female celebrity talent -- to really influence our purchasing decisions. We look for recommendations. So a lot of these brands look to female celebrity talent because they’re so relatable to women.”

It’s no secret that women also hold the purchasing power. According to research by Marketing Zeus, women make 85 percent of all U.S. consumer purchases.

Surprisingly, when considering potential artist partners, brands tend to care much less about radio chart positions than they do about social media reach. “The commercial appeal of these artists isn’t connected to their success at radio,” says Hutfless. “An artist can build a really strong brand and relate to lots of women, and it’s not totally dependent upon [radio].” One example is Jewel, who Hutfless says “is a mom, and all about health, and passionate about several issues.” The singer-songwriter has built a presence in that space with such brands as Fisher-Price, Pampers, Hallmark and Oscar Meyer.

“Women really have an opportunity to build themselves a brand,” says Hutfless. “Radio and music [are] a small piece of that … There’s a lot of opportunities for female artists to explore outside of music [around] their other interests, whether it’s fitness or food or home goods, or style or design.”

On the social media side, says Hutfless, acts with a million or more followers have many opportunities. “Social media plays a huge role as brands are determining who to work with. [It’s] a way for brands to determine reach and fan base.”

Not surprisingly, female country artists do particularly well with categories like beauty, home goods, health, accessories, footwear and kids, but Hutfless thinks there are no limits to categories they can represent. “Look at Miranda [Lambert] with the Ram trucks deal,” she says. “Kellie Pickler had a Ram truck deal two years ago, so I don’t think there’s any barriers. And look at Faith Hill and Carrie Underwood and the NFL. That’s football, and they worked with two female country artists now for that theme. That definitely says something.”

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.


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