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Elvis 30 #1’s: Doing the Colonel Proud

By Bryan GruszkaOct 1, 2002
Ok, let me share a story with all of you. This is a story so odd, so unusual, so strange, that I wouldn’t be surprised at all if I was accused of making it up. But it happened to me, and it was one of my proudest moments in all of my years as an Elvis fan. What was it? Well, here goes…

As everyone knows, Elvis #1’s was released in the US this past Tuesday, September 24th. Another Elvis release? How many more can there be? Well, this is true, but this one was different. For the first time in my memory, BMG actually had promoted, and I mean really promoted, an Elvis release, so much so, in fact, that even non Elvis fans were talking about it. The fact that this promotion paid off with the masses was brought home to me in a most unexpected and exciting way this weekend.

Picture this…I’m shopping in my local mall, which is in a predominately Hispanic area. This mall caters to mostly Hispanic and African-American shoppers and is not the place that you’d expect to see an Elvis presence. Well, I was shopping in Bachrach, a rather trendy men’s clothing store and what do I hear over the speakers? Heartbreak Hotel. Yep, that’s right. And not just Heartbreak Hotel, but the entire Elvis #’1s release. One of the employees had put it on. Not only that, but the customers were listening, singing and even dancing along to it. Needless to say, it made my shopping experience wonderful. But it also made me think. The bigger picture was this. here I was, in a trendy store with young, non-Caucasian employees and customers, and Elvis Presley was being played. And not only was Elvis being played, but Elvis music was SELECTED purposely by one of the employees. What did this mean? Well, it meant that Elvis was suddenly cool to people that you’d never expect him to be cool with. That got me thinking as to how this happened.

Like many Elvis fans, I had an unrequited dream, almost a fantasy, really. It was that, some day, through aggressive marketing and a firm believe in product, that Elvis would actually become “Hip” again. Did I think it would ever happen? Absolutely not, especially given the fact that, without fail, every US Elvis release languished and died at the very bottom of the album charts, despite all the supposed “promotion” from BMG.

I’m sure many of you know how frustrating it is as an Elvis fan to go into a record store on the day of a new Elvis release only to be greeted with absolutely no indication that there is anything new coming out and to get that quizzical look for the store clerk when you ask about the new release. For me, this experience has become increasingly frustrating in recent years, especially given my growing realization that anyone can become “hip” again given the right marketing. Take the Beatles releases of the 1990’s. I have mentioned this point to anyone who would listen, and even to some who wouldn’t – whether you liked the Beatles or not, or were dying for the new Beatles releases or couldn’t care less, they were EVERYWHERE. Commercials, posters, ads and announcements for the Beatles Anthology series and for “1” were ubiquitous. One couldn’t avoid them if one tried. The result? The Beatles had more success in the 1990’s than they did during their career as a group, and racked up four number one albums. And how did Elvis compare during this period? Of all of the major BMG releases, including the 50’s Masters, which was perhaps the most promoted of Elvis’ 90’s releases, only one release, 1997’s “Platinum”, even scratched the Top 100 in the album charts, reaching number 80, something that BMG heralded as a major success…not to belabor this point, but that, my friends, is simply pathetic. While the Beatles were racking up their best album sales ever, BMG was scrounging through old sales figures in a desperate attempt to prop up Elvis’ officially certified sales.

Part of the problem, as we all know, has been BMG’s “quantity over quality” approach, which saturated the market with multiple album releases every year. In a 1997 interview, Mike Omansky, former VP in charge of Elvis’ releases at BMG, mentioned that BMg expected each new Elvis release to sell 100,000 copies, implying that that was a “good” number for Elvis. Therein lies the problem, folks. After all, how much marketing needs to go into a product that is only expected to sell 100,000 copies on its initial release?

Given the above, one can imagine my trepidation when BMG decided to trot its #1’s compilation. Looking at BMG’s track record with marketing, and given the fact that it already had been done with the Beatles compilation, it seemed to be a case of “monkey see, monkey do” on the part of BMG, and I naturally feared that this compilation would simply come and go like so many other Elvis releases and, not only that, but that it would be compared unfavorably to the Beatles 1’s release once the abysmal sales figures were tallied.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was wrong about that. But at the same time, I can hardly contain my excitement at the fact that my long held theory that marketing Elvis properly would ensure success has been proven correct in a huge way. The reason? Well, it’s simple – Elvis has actually been promoted, and not “promoted” as BMG claims to have promoted Elvis in the past – with little fanfare – Elvis is literally everywhere, and it’s paying off.

Naturally when BMG launched the Elvis #1’s campaign I was skeptical. After all, BMG has launched a big campaign for “Artist of the Century”, which of course turned out to be nothing. However, as the days and weeks went by, and I actually managed to see more and more ads for Elvis #1’s, my skepticism abated somewhat. However, being the cynical jaded Elvis fan that I am, I told myself that all the promos I saw were in Memphis during Elvis Week, which is only to be expected. It remained to be seen, however, if any of that promotion would translate elsewhere.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I saw ads for Elvis #1’s on VH-1 and MTV. Elvis? On MTV? How’d that happen? Then, to my even bigger surprise, I visited a local mall and not one, not two, but all three of the record stores I visited had Elvis displays up. Yes, you heard right, Elvis displays…I asked myself when was the last time I saw an Elvis display in the store. The answer? 1992, when I saw a small stand up display for the 50’s Masters in one store. This time, however, there were banners, signs, displays, and yes, Elvis was even on the “Coming Soon” wall, something I have NEVER experienced in my 25 years of collecting Elvis’ music. In addition, the local Wal-Mart had Elvis displays, as did my local Best Buy. To top it off, I visited other local record stores and, without exception, all had Elvis displays. And I’m not talking one little poster, either. To a non-Elvis fan, Elvis was, to all extents and purposes THE big upcoming release. And that’s not even including the internet marketing and aggressive pre-order campaigns that BMG was waging, and the cross-promotions with Yahoo, CompuServe, AOL, and a host of other companies.

What was going on? I asked myself. Dare I hope that Elvis was being promoted? What was truly amazing was that Elvis was being promoted as if he were a real artist. I know that sounds ridiculous, as of course Elvis was a real artist, but it is a sad fact that Elvis has never been promoted as he should have been. My theory was that if BMG hyped a new Elvis released they would overcome resistance by record retailers and such, and it looks as though it was true. I always said to myself that I wished that all new Elvis releases would stop and that BMG would put a huge budget into marketing just one release, just to see if Elvis would ever make the top 40 the charts. Heck, I wasn’t even shooting for #1. I just wanted to see Elvis in the Top 40 again. Number one was a position that I had assumed Elvis would never again reach. However, with each day my hopes began to rise a bit. With pre-ord
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