If you're looking for evidence of country music's broadening appeal, look no further than one of the superstars performing at tonight's CMA Awards—Beyonce. But while country crossover acts have been around for quite a while, more brands are getting involved with the CMA, tonight and year-round, because they want to tap into the genre's increasingly diverse, and increasingly urban, fan base, as marketing execs attested today at the CMA Marketing Summit in Nashville, Tenn., ahead of tonight's show.
Forty-two percent of U.S. adults are country fans, and that fan base has grown 30 percent over the past 10 years, with 23 percent growth in the West Coast market, including Los Angeles, and 25 percent growth in the mid-Atlantic region, including New York, according to the CMA. There also has been a 33 percent growth in African-American country music fans and an 18 percent growth in Hispanic fans in the past decade.
"The country consumer isn't the stereotype that's been around for a lot of years," said Damon Whiteside, svp of marketing and strategic partnerships at CMA. "The audience is getting younger and more diverse, and 35 percent of our audience is millennial, which makes it more powerful for brands. Country's always been thought of as for middle America, but our biggest growth has been on the East Coast and West Coast."
And that growth has prompted more brands to court country fans. Target is running ads during the CMA Awards to promote its new Garth Brooks CD box set.
"Country has so many themes, like dreams and relationships and love, all the things that people experience in life that are so relatable," said Todd Waterbury, chief creative officer at Target. "Artists like Garth are icons, and they transcend genres."
Stacy Taffet, senior director of marketing at Pepsi, which has partnered with the CMA for the past several years and also has brand activations at this year's show, says these initiatives help Pepsi appeal to younger consumers.
"Country used to only be on country radio and only appeal to certain demographics, but that's changed completely," Taffet said. "More than half of the country is a country music fan. They have so many artists that are crossing over and moving into pop culture in general, and it's important for us to be a part of that."
The CMA Awards had 15.25 million viewers last year, and it's hoping to surpass that number tonight, which marks the show's 50th anniversary.
"The awards show is the Oscars of country music, and if brands want to reach country consumers, the way to go is to be in our show," Whiteside said.
The "Forever Country" video promoting this year's CMA Awards featuring 30 country artists (including this year's Willie Nelson Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, Dolly Parton) singing a compilation of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," Willie Nelson's "On the Road Again" and Parton's "I Will Always Love You" garnered 45 million views on social media. The song was the No. 1 download on iTunes the week it was released.