linked in facebook twitter rss

  • Interbrand
  • Brandchannel

your chance!
your chance!


  Long Live the King   Long Live the King  John Karolefski  
Long Live the King This summer, a re-mixed version of an obscure Elvis tune, A Little Less Conversation, was released worldwide. Incredibly, it climbed to number one on the singles charts in the United Kingdom and the US. Half a dozen Elvis songs are on the soundtrack of Disney’s new movie Lilo & Stitch. Next month RCA will release Elvis: 30 #1 Hits, the first-ever collection of 30 Presley number-one singles on one CD.

Elvis – a cultural icon and arguably the most influential celebrity brand in history – has not quite left the building. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

“Elvis has not really died,” said Robert Thompson, a professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. “There are so many impersonators that Elvis is still out there in various stages of his career. He’s part of the American folk culture. He was an extraordinary, charismatic and brilliant musician. He left a body of work that’s really good. Those songs have been perpetually in play since they were recorded. He’s never really gone away.”

Frank Coffey, co-author of the Elvis Encyclopedia, writes: “Today, Elvis is everywhere. His records and CDs continue to sell, his face has appeared on a stamp, and you can more easily find Elvis paraphernalia than you can gift items on the Statue of Liberty and the Eiffel Tower combined…. The Elvis phenomenon isn’t waning, it’s growing with every passing year.”

Indeed, although he sold over one billion records, music is only part of the phenomenon. The shrewd marketing of Elvis for more than two decades has kept him close to the public consciousness. The King became bigger in death than in life.

Elvis Presley Enterprises has negotiated over 100 licenses with companies ranging from Hasbro to Anheuser-Busch. His movies – campy as they may seem now – are consistently re-run on television. Then there is Graceland, the Presley estate in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.

Graceland has become a Mecca for the one million fans who arrive from around the world throughout the year. This pilgrimage is especially heavy during Elvis Week, the days leading up to the anniversary of his death. The global media coverage will be especially intense this year as thousands of fans gather in Memphis for the 25th anniversary.

In the beginning, Elvis didn’t seem destined for international fame. He was born in a run-down shack in Tupelo, Mississippi, and grew up poor in Memphis. But he could sing and play the guitar some. As a young man, he was forging a new style of music. Recording sessions at Sun Studios produced songs that got some radio time, and the public response was instantaneous and overwhelming. Before long, the whole country knew who Elvis Presley was.

“Elvis found a place in our hearts and minds by exposing popular, white American culture to something it had never seen or heard before. He took African-American rhythm and blues, mixed it with mainstream Western music, and presented a whole new style and identity that was radical enough to be different and mainstream enough to make it onto the radio,” said Peter Montoya, author of The Brand Called You and publisher of Personal Branding magazine.

“On one hand, Elvis had a hard enough edge and good enough looks to attract women and young people. On the other hand, he was just non-threatening enough to gain widespread popularity,” Montoya said.

Perhaps Jennifer Burgess, director of marketing and communications for Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis, put it best: “Elvis was the safe rebel.”

Elvis became a leading agent of change in pop culture in the second half of the 20th century. Those who have studied his life say that he was everyman with a guitar and attitude. He burst on the scene and shook up the country. When he was finished, nothing was ever the same.

“As an American icon and as a brand, he’s really in a class by himself,” explained Thompson. “He spans so many different parts of American culture. He starts out as a grass roots rock and roller. He goes mainstream and becomes the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll. Then he goes off and does this stretch of movies in Hollywood. He lives long enough to go from being the rebellious rock and roller to the fat Elvis playing Vegas.

“Elvis in sequins was, to some extent, what had happened to the great optimism of the Utopian, post-war American world. When he dies in the stagflation era, he was representing that as much as he had represented the optimistic first decade after the war.”

Elvis analysts say the brand stands for everything and everyman. It is that all-encompassing appeal to so many different kinds of people that is the key to the success and longevity of the brand.

“There’s a wide range of symbolism,” said Paul Mullins, who teaches a course on popular culture at Indiana and Purdue University. “Elvis can stand for everything from God to Devil. That’s what good brands do. They have a symbolic ambiguity. People can find different meanings in the same symbolism.”

Montoya added, “It sounds cliché, but Elvis was – and is – the King. He was so radically different when he came onto the scene that he invented his own brand position. Within that identity, as an icon Elvis was able to find success in several different areas.”

Such versatility led to enormous success in recorded music (rock, gospel, country and pop), live performances, and even Hollywood. It spanned the years as the performer and his audience aged.

“In today’s parlance, we call him the ultimate cross-over artist. Elvis had the ability to do what Madonna gets credit for doing – constant re-invention. Even after he lost that slim appearance, he was able to re-invent himself,” said Thompson of Syracuse University.

Montoya agrees that Elvis’s success may largely rest on the ability of the brand to morph into another version of itself. First, Elvis had the “look” – the lip, the collar, the sound, the accent, and the pompadour with sideburns.

“Elvis was able to reinvent those key elements again and again – a bigger collar, a new song, a slightly different style or emphasis. From records to movies to live performances to merchandising, Elvis was a man, a product and an identity that the world still hungers for,” he said.

Perhaps that explains why Elvis seems to be attracting young people as fans, as well as retaining the passionate allegiance of his original loyalists.

“If you are in your 60s or 70s, this guy was the sound track of your youth,” said Thompson. “But there are a lot of young people who were not even born by the time Elvis had died. They have discovered his music and take him very seriously.”

That’s welcome news for Elvis Presley Enterprises, which positions, protects, and preserves the brand. Burgess, the marketing director, said that reaching today’s young people is one of the goals of EPE.

“We realize that the way to get to today’s audiences is through the Internet. That’s why we have You can research everything you ever wanted to know about Elvis. It’s a tourism site. It’s even got a new kids’ section,” she said, adding it has games and other interactive features.

Fans can also go online to join the new Elvis Presley Collectors Club, which is off to a strong start, according to Burgess. Founding members can purchase limited-edition collectibles, get discounts for Graceland, Elvis Presley’s Memphis Restaurant and Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel, as well as get other benefits.

Many of these fans surely are now in Memphis for Elvis Week. A variety of music, sports, social and charitable events lead up to “Elvis: The 25th Anniversary Concert” on August 16 at the Pyramid arena. The production reunites Elvis, via a huge video screen, singing vocals to the live accompaniment of 30 musicians from his former bands.

“You pretty much don’t realize that Elvis isn’t really there,” said Burgess. “You’re looking at the screen, which is what you do at many big concerts anyway. Of course, the original band members are on the stage. It’s a phenomenal thing.”

The success of the re-mixed version of A Little Less Conversation, which was also featured in a Nike World Cup soccer television ad, has mobilized the stewards of the Elvis brand. They have already met with recording companies to discuss releasing other re-mixed Presley songs.

“It’s bringing in a new audience that is discovering Elvis,” said Burgess. “There is such a huge catalog of material out there that it would be easy to do, and it would be fun.”

The King is dead?

“I can’t imagine that the brand called Elvis is going to die,” said Montoya. “Elvis continues to strike a chord with people all over the world. He has a timeless, evocative quality that just keeps creeping back into our hearts.”

Long live the King.     



John Karolefski, formerly the editor-in-chief of Brand Marketing magazine, writes and speaks frequently about marketing issues.

 commenting closed Add Social Bookmark bookmark  print
 suggest topic  recommend ( 14 )  email

  brandchannel home archive   2013  |  2012  |  2011  |  2010  |  2009  |  2008  |  2007  |  2006  |  2005  |  2004  |  2003  | 2002  |  2001
Dec 30, 2002 Are Books Bound by Their Brand? -- Edwin Colyer
  Some authors have strong brands, but how many of us choose a book by its publisher?
Dec 16, 2002 Has Gen X Fallen Through the Cracks? -- Vivian Manning-Schaffel
  Generation Y appears preferable to Gen X for brand owners and advertisers pitching their wares. Should we mind the generation gap?
Dec 9, 2002 Can Small Businesses Sprout Big Brands? -- Edwin Colyer
  Small or large, every business has a brand, and the ability to use it to its advantage.
Dec 2, 2002 Anti-Globalists v. Big Brands: Who is Going to Win? -- Randall Frost
  Is there a win-win solution between the anti-globalists and big brands?
Nov 25, 2002 Milking the Organic Market -- Erin Speiser Ihde
  Organic brands are positioning themselves as an alternative for health-conscious, socially responsible consumers. The challenge? Milking a higher price.
Nov 18, 2002 Branding Drugs for a Market of One -- Edwin Colyer
  As pharmacogenomics surface on the horizon, how can pharmaceuticals market efficiently to tiny patient groups?
Nov 11, 2002 Can Japanese Brands Go Global? -- Randall Frost
  Why don't Japan's brands have a stronger presence outside of their local markets?
Nov 4, 2002 The Key to Branding (and Financial) Success -- Vincent Grimaldi de Puget
  How to make your brand rise above the background noise in spite of limited resources, and contribute to improving your company's bottom line.
Oct 28, 2002 Branding the Bush -- Ron Irwin
  Making a killing on eco-tourism.
Oct 21, 2002 Barbie Goes to Court -- Ed Meikle
  Barbie flexes her muscles in the wake of defamation.
Oct 14, 2002 Keep Your Brand Clean -- John Karolefski
  How to prove your innocence during a threat of guilty by association.
Oct 7, 2002 HELP WANTED: Top Talent Apply Within -- Dale Buss
  In lean times, companies depend even more on their most valuable brand champions: Employees.
Sep 30, 2002 Chefs Acquire a Taste for Branding -- Jocelyne Henri
  Creating a brand à la mode with France's pastry brands, Pierre Hermé, Dalloyau and Ladurée.
Sep 23, 2002 Putting Out the Fire: Managing Through Crisis -- David Liss
  Steering your brand through disaster.
Sep 16, 2002 Cutting Costs: Resource Management All in One Tool -- Fiona Harvey
  Is resource management resourceful thinking?
Sep 9, 2002 Fire Drill: Preparing for Crisis -- David Liss
  Are you ready to protect your brand when disaster strikes?
Sep 2, 2002 Can Dead Dot Coms Be Reincarnated? -- Brad Cook
  Is there value left in the dead brands of generically named dot coms such as pets, wine, and eToys.
Aug 26, 2002 Commodities: Branding the Basics -- Eric Mirabel
  How do we go about turning a commodity product or production capability into a new brand? We look at the Middle East, a transitioning market where manufacturers are branding commodities.
Aug 19, 2002 Brands in Toyland -- Ron Irwin
  Is branding in the toy world just child’s play? We look at how traditional brands like LEGO and Brio stand up to the dazzlingly high-tech competition.
Aug 5, 2002 IBM Navigates the Biotech Maze -- Edwin Colyer
  IBM Global Services is expanding to a variety of areas like its recent acquisition of PwC Consulting. We look at how a brand like this penetrates the life sciences market.
Jul 29, 2002 Do Nonprofits Have Value? -- Robin Rusch
  As we unveil Interbrand's league tables of the world's most valuable brands for for-profit brands in 2002, we ask, Is there value in a nonprofit brand?
Jul 22, 2002 Trials and Tribulations of Global Naming -- Ed Meikle
  We look at recent trademarking issues from PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Monday to Philip Morris’s Altria and discuss the basic guidelines for domain name registration disputes.
Jul 15, 2002 Successful Start-ups Launch with a Brand -- David Liss
  Why do some start-up brands fail where others succeed? When should one begin to think about the brand in the entrepreneurial process?
Jul 8, 2002 Pushing Product: Is In-Store Promotion Effective? -- John Karolefski
  Is in-store marketing effective or just more clutter separating us from our favorite brand of ice cream?
Jul 1, 2002 Shopping Through a Recession: How Will Luxury Brands Survive? -- Dale Buss
  How are luxury brands faring in the aftermath of September 11 and the past year of recession?
Jun 24, 2002 Lawless Branding: Recent Developments in Trademark Law -- Ed Meikle
  This month’s trademark law developments: Sony loses Walkman to the masses in Austria and FIFA takes on ambush marketers in Latin America.
Jun 17, 2002 Prescribing a Global Identity -- Edwin Colyer
  The pharmaceutical industry has been wary of promoting big, international brands, but is it better to stay local or go global?
Jun 10, 2002 Positioning: The Missing Piece in the Tech Sector -- Rob Gelphman
  Brands in the tech sector need to work on their positioning.
Jun 3, 2002 The New CCO: Delivering Customer Care -- Dale Buss
  In a recession, suddenly everyone cares about attracting the customer. Enter the Chief Customer Officer.
May 27, 2002 Ambush Marketing Steals the Show -- Abram Sauer
  Competition is heating up as sponsoring brands of the World Cup and other global sporting events struggle with ambush marketing.
May 20, 2002 Time Release Branding -- Edwin Colyer
  New pharma needs to launch with a bang. But at which stage beyond molecule is it time to start the branding process?
May 13, 2002 The Sport of Naming -- John Karolefski
  Naming rights for sports stadiums may be big business but are they sound business?
May 6, 2002 Private Labels: Does Branding Matter? -- Robin Rusch
  Can private labels be considered brands? What threat do they pose to brand owners?
Apr 29, 2002 Multimedia Makes the Grade -- Kim Barnet
  Can the education industry learn how to harness multimedia to create new tools and improve its overall brand image?
Apr 22, 2002 Franchising in China: A Dead Duck? -- Edward Young
  The rush to franchise in China may be faster than the drive-through at McDonald's, but the results are not always favorable to the brand.
Apr 15, 2002 Bottled Water Floods the Market -- John Karolefski
  Megabrands Groupe Danone and Nestlé lead the bottled water market. But as new markets rise, so do the stakes. Who will win the latest water war?
Apr 8, 2002 Can Branding Save the World? -- Ron Irwin
  Ben & Jerry’s, Avon and Patagonia all engage in cause-related or values-led marketing. Is it a justifiable endeavor or just a feel-good makeover?
Apr 1, 2002 Can Gap Mend Its Brand? -- Vivian Manning-Schaffel
  At one time, Gap had the retail clothing market sewn up. Now it struggles against sister brands Banana Republic and Old Navy.
Mar 25, 2002 Is China's Film Industry Overexposed? -- Edward Young
  As Kodak loses its agreement to manufacture film in China, are local brand Lucky and global giants Fuji, Konica, and Agfa-Gevaert ready to leap in?
Mar 18, 2002 Offensive But Effective? -- Edwin Colyer
  Campaigns for brands like Benetton and FCUK certainly get our attention, but what are they doing for the brand?
Mar 11, 2002 Mortal Brands: Continuing the Legacy -- John Karolefski
  What happens to a brand when its spokesperson literally dies? As Wendy’s re-evaluates its strategy, we look to other branded icons for some hints.
Mar 4, 2002 Apple Shines: Brandchannel's 2001 Readers' Choice Award Results -- Robin Rusch
  What do Apple, Nokia, Volkswagen,, Absolut and Starbucks have in common? Brandchannel's 2001 Readers' Choice survey results are here.
Feb 25, 2002 Has Your Brand Become Generic? -- Stephen Gardner
  What happens when your brand name is part of the public domain? We look at names that have gone generic.
Feb 18, 2002 Zero Percent Brand Management? -- Dale Buss
  Are American automakers trailing behind their overseas counterparts when it comes to managing their brands?
Feb 11, 2002 Conquering New Grounds -- John Karolefski
  Starbucks serves up a fresh brew around the world, but are non-Americans ready to wake up to this powerful brand?
Feb 4, 2002 MTV: 360 Degrees 24/7 -- Vivian Manning-Schaffel
  With a reputation like MTV, the pressure to score high in new media is huge. Is MTV able to give its audience what it wants… online?
Jan 28, 2002 Penetrating the Birth Control Market -- Katherine Daniel
  From legislation to disease, contraception manufacturers focus the brand on mundane subjects and leave out the best part: the sex!
Jan 21, 2002 Brand Mobility: Telecom Operators Turn to Handsets -- Edwin Colyer
  Will cellular service brands eclipse the big cellphone brands? Don't hang up on Nokia, Ericsson and Samsung just yet.
Jan 14, 2002 Is Your Brand Everlasting? -- John Karolefski
  We check in on 2001's fallen icons and ask why some stay strong and prosper, while others wither and die.
Jan 7, 2002 Will Online Rx Get Easier to Swallow? -- Edwin Colyer
  As pharmaceuticals struggle to get doctors to take their medicine, they ignore the valuable branding resources available on the web.