Monday, February 16, 1998

Rolling Stone Online: Nike Experience Bittersweet For Verve

The Verve, Hollywood Records & More 
 
If it were up to the Verve, Nike never would have received permission to use the band's "Bitter Sweet Symphony" as the cornerstone of the company's new multimillion-dollar ad campaign. But thanks to a tangled web of music-publishing rights, the Verve claim that the decision wasn't really theirs to make.
"The Verve are a rock band, and they don't think their music should be used to endorse things," says the group's manager, Jazz Summers.
 
Problems for the Verve arose, however, because the band does not control publishing rights to "Bitter Sweet Symphony." Since the song includes a sample of the Andrew Oldham Orchestra's version of the Rolling Stones song "The Last Time," ABKCO, which owns the copyrights to many early Stones tracks, took control of "Bitter Sweet Symphony" last year. That meant ABKCO could sell the song's rights to any advertiser willing to pay for it, and that the advertiser could then -- without the Verve's permission -- hire studio musicians to re-record a sound-alike.
 
Rather than allow that to happen, the band members decided to license their actual recording of "Bitter Sweet Symphony" to one major advertiser in the hopes that this would deter others from wanting to buy the publishing rights. In the end, Nike beat out Budweiser, Coca-Cola, General Motors and others for the sweeping hit single.
 
Nike's sixty-second spot -- a stylish, cinematic salute to athletic determination -- is just the latest in a cascade of commercials utilizing pop music to sell everything from shoes to cars to computers. Among others in heavy rotation: Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People" (Toyota), David Bowie's "Heroes" (Microsoft), the Who's "I Can't Explain" (Ford), Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young's "Our House" (Chase Bank) and Erykah Badu's "On and On" (Levi's).
 
And the price to license these songs isn't cheap; most hits go for $250,000 or more. Nike paid $700,000 for "Bitter Sweet Symphony," but the band received only $175,000, while ABKCO pocketed $350,000. (The Verve are donating their share to the Red Cross Land Mine Appeal; they're asking ABKCO to do the same.)
 
Not that the Verve haven't benefited from the ads. Two weeks after the Nike commercial debuted, during the NFL playoffs, the Verve's Urban Hymns jumped thirty-four spots on the Billboard 200, hitting Number Thirty-six, the album's highest point since its release last September. Summers concedes that the ad may help generate the Verve's U.S. breakthrough: "If this music is being played during football games and 20 million people are listening to it for a minute, it's going to have an effect."
 
And a higher chart position is not all they got. "In our final negotiations with the band's manager, he was asking if [the Verve] could get tickets for the World Cup," says Nike's Mark Thomashow. So the band will be heading to Paris this summer for some soccer matches? "I said, 'Whatever it takes,' " says Thomashow.