Dylan Spot Has Labels Listening

Eager to meet the star of his new commercial, Adam Owett stepped out of a beat-up restaurant in L.A.’s Korea Town into the noonday sun recently. There he took in the unlikely sight of Bob Dylan striding down the street, headed to the shoot.

“It was weird; there was Dylan just walking down the street by himself with some clothes he brought for the spot,” said Owett, a former creative director for Grey Advertising in London and now svp, creative for Sony Music.

While the commercial offered memorable moments for executives at the record label, the prospect of Dylan filming a spot for his new album, Love and Theft, appears to have broader implications for the way music is marketed.

“You can’t just run a single up the charts anymore,” said Larry Jenkins, svp of marketing and media at Columbia Records, the Sony division that is releasing the album this week. “It was the record company’s idea, and we approached Bob with it. We thought it was a creative way to let people know [about the album].”

The 30-second spot, which broke on spot cable last week and will reach broadcast TV this week, was directed by Kinka Usher, who has helmed spots for Mountain Dew, “Got milk?” and Microsoft. It shows Dylan playing poker in a seedy restaurant near downtown L.A. With him are four other players who seem to be cheating. There is no dialogue; a song from the album plays throughout. A 60-second version can be viewed on bobdylan.com.

Owett, who describes the spot as “the anti-commercial commercial,” said the approach portends a shift for the music industry. “It’s a very atypical approach, but this may alter the way we market music.”

Indeed, many in the music industry say this kind of commercial for such an established artist reflects the changing nature of the business.

“[Record companies] have not had to do this type of marketing in the past, but they are not getting a warm reception on radio,” said Edna Gundersen, rock critic for USA Today. “This is not just a commercial; it’s a cultural event. It will be regarded as a piece of art.”

“I’ve always heard Dylan is very bottom-line-oriented. So it’s not surprising that, in tough economic times for the record industry, he’s willing to go the extra mile to help his new album,” said Bruce Haring, author of several music-industry books and CEO of OfftheCharts.com.