It’s ‘Now or Never’ for BMG

Ad blitz aims to crown Elvis holiday King

Forget about last year’s EMI blockbuster from the four mop-tops: The prosperity of BMG right now rests on the infamous hips of Elvis Presley.

As a result, the German media giant has launched a marketing blitzkreig for its upcoming compilation of the King’s greatest hits.

“Elv1s: 30 #1 Hits,” a complete collection of Presley’s chart-topping singles, will hit stores on Sept. 24, and Bertelsmann has spared no expense in its bid to vault the record into blockbuster territory.

Bertelsmann has made little secret of its desire to repeat the runaway success of EMI’s “Beatles 1” compilation. Released last November, the record went on to sell more than 25 million copies worldwide, and almost singlehandedly carried the British label group through what was otherwise a dire year for sales.

The docket of promos for “Elv1s” includes a barrage of TV, radio and print ads and an extensive cross-marketing deal on America Online and TerraLycos, says BMG’s senior VP of strategic marketing Joe DiMuro.

Also on deck are several Presley-themed books from Bertelsmann publishing unit Random House, periodicals from the company’s Gruner + Jahr division, and direct 800-number sales on television.

In total, the record company is laying out between $8 million and $10 million to set up “Elv1s” — a virtually unprecedented figure for a compilation release. For its part, EMI spent a comparatively paltry $2 million to tubthumb the Beatles.

BMG has had its share of difficulties to overcome this year, posting a loss of $45 million for the first half of 2002 after a year of restructuring and a tough slump industry-wide.

The major still plans to be in the black for the year; record release schedules tend to skew heavily toward the second half of the year as holiday season approaches. But a big piece of those profits is expected to come from Elvis, putting terrific pressure on BMG’s marketing machine.

One of the key question marks for the release is its ability to connect with a young audience — the same people that vault disks by Eminem and Linkin Park into multiplatinum status.

“The real key for this to be a huge success will be energizing the young consumer,” says Mark Hogan, VP of marketing for retailing giant Trans World Entertainment. “I think that’s going to be more of a challenge than it was with the Beatles.”

But no one ever said marketing is for the faint of heart. Hogan says “Elv1s” will get prime rack real estate in Trans World’s 600-strong chain of FYE stores, right alongside the latest in hip-hop and nu-metal. And FYE is co-sponsoring a traveling Elvis exhibit called Mobile Graceland.

Album also has a few advantages over the Fab Four comp. For one, Bertelsmann got a mountain of free publicity in the form of TV and print specials for the 25th anni of Elvis’ death last month.

The King got a leg up with the younger demos, thanks to several key licensing deals, says DiMuro.

Nike featured a remix of Elvis’ “A Little Less Conversation,” in a wildly popular ad that ran as part of the shoemaker’s $90 million World Cup ad campaign. The track went on to become a No. 1 single in 24 markets worldwide.

In addition, BMG licensed six classic Elvis tracks to appear on the soundtrack to the popular Disney pic Lilo & Stitch, which has sold more than 300,000 units to date.

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