Wednesday, 15 August 2007
Elvis: The Man and the Marketing
I don’t know where you stand on Elvis, but he’s everywhere at the moment; it seems that there is a significant Elvis anniversary: 30 years since he died; but since when was thirty a significant anniversary?
I have never really quite understood Elvis; I mean, for one thing, there’s no such thing as Elvis singular. There’s young Elvis, GI Elvis, LA Elvis and sad fat Elvis but not one clear Elvis identity. I can take or leave the music: he sang well - as a rock and roll singer - and could bash out a ballad well enough but I don't understand what made him so big – in the global, rather than physical, sense. The answer, I learnt from an excellent Radio 4 programme yesterday afternoon, was Colonel Tom Parker: now there’s a man you would want on your marketing team. Parker was solely responsible for converting Elvis from a man to a brand; taking advantage of the scarcity principle by preventing him ever touring outside the US and making his movies instant hits among the worldwide population who would never get to see him perform. Parker quickly spotted the potential marketing value in TV when everyone else poured scorn on it as a five minute wonder.
Sadly though, as far as I can see, there is little left of the man that was; all that seems to remain – aside from endless debates about the music – is the brand: a sort of quasi-comic phenomenon that is a mixture of karaoke and Blackpool. You only need to Google (UK) Elvis to get a flavour of it: the genuine fan sites are far outnumbered by Elvis impersonators; I even spotted a knitting pattern for an Elvis wig. During another Radio 4 Elvis programme this week there was reportage about the Elvis brand, including consideration of whether the Elvis impersonator market ought to be franchised. I almost had to pull up the car to think about this: compare the image of Elvis to that of the other massive American franchise: the golden arches of McDonalds, and you will see how weirdly possible it could be. Already the range of possible Elvis impersonator alternatives has far outstripped the imagination of even Col. Tom: for example Chinese Elvis, Black Elvis, Shmelvis (the Jewish Elvis), Elvish (the Tolkien themed Elvis), Gospel Elvis, Balloon Elvis and the lesbian Elvis impersonator Elvis Herselvis. It seems the cult is far bigger than the man.
Perhaps, in a few years time, when I am looking for a potential investment for my pension lump sum, I could do worse that an Elvis franchise myself: Oldham Elvis with his range of specially adapted hit songs like: '(Mind Me) Clogs Yer Clumsy Bugger' and 'Yer Nowt But a Whippet', the list is endless.
Oh, by the way, I made up one of the themed Elvis impersonators; can you guess which one?