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Right on Target

They've been together 20 years, they just performed at the Super Bowl, they've played in 47 countries for more than 31-million people, and now . . . they're doing television commercials for Target, promoting a $6.99 eight-song disc available only in the chain store's CD department.

Um, is everything okay in Bon Jovi land?

Lead guitarist Richie Sambora said everything is just fine with the New Jersey rock outfit, which plays a nearly sold-out house Saturday at the St. Pete Times Forum in Tampa.

"With all the piracy and downloading going on in the music business these days," he said, "you have to be really aware and available. Nowadays, two out of every five CDs sold are pirated copies, and people are downloading 5-billion songs a month, so it's important to stay visible on a marketing level, and the visibility of being on TV screens is very, very important.

"You just have to do those things," he said about the Target campaign. "It's very acceptable to be on television commercials now. Ten years ago, it was totally uncool. But now it's totally the polar opposite."

The Target disc is a collection of the band's musical flotsam and jetsam: a couple of live tracks (Just Older and Misunderstood), an acoustic version of Everyday and five studio tracks.

"When Jon and I write for a new album," Sambora said, referring to lead singer and front man Jon Bon Jovi, "we usually write about 40 songs and then decide which 12 to put on the record."

The Target disc's studio tracks are some of those, well, leftovers.

The disc sold out in many Target stores days after it was released, and Sambora said it also had the added effect of boosting sales of the rest of the multiplatinum band's catalog, including its recent full-studio disc Bounce.

The band's willingness to play ball with Target to help promote Bounce is just another example of its marketing savvy. When the group's U.S. career stalled in the '90s, for example, it worked the Japanese and European markets with spectacular results.

When the Crush album was released in 2000, the group flogged the disc on the tube for the Late Show with David Letterman crowd and the Today Show audience and even aired a concert on the (then) Fox Family Network.

The single from that album, It's My Life, became the band's most successful and brought Bon Jovi back into the rock spotlight.

"Our business is on a global level," Sambora said. "We just got back from Australia where we played five stadiums and then went over to Japan, where we were the first international act to sell out every dome in the country."

The U.S. tour also has sold out in nearly every market. "We're doing 25 stadiums in Europe on this tour and then Hyde Park in London at the end of June," Sambora said, "and we already have sold 78,000 tickets for that. We're doing Giants stadium for two nights and sold 65,000 tickets for those shows in one afternoon."

All of that makes the Target deal seem like an even weirder collaboration. But then Sambora mentioned something else the band is focused on.

Bon Jovi has sold 98-million discs worldwide during its two-decade career. The group really, really wants to hit the "pinnacle," as Sambora put it, of 100-million on this tour, and every little bit helps.

That's why even after Bon Jovi finishes all the gigs Sambora mentioned, the group will add summer stadium dates in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit and the Boston area.

"We're still learning how to do this right after 20 years," Sambora said. "We're still getting better, and it's still a rewarding thing every time we play."

They're still hungry, too. Just ask Target.