Wednesday, September 09, 2009

I'm Only Human or Beatles for Sale

Apparently something very big is happening today—and it's not my 35th birthday*. According to many media outlets, four lads from Liverpool, England are returning to America or are invading America or are declaring a jihad on America ... I'm not 100% sure, but something is happening to America.

* Yes. This was a cheap lede and an even cheaper stunt, especially coming from someone who tells everyone that he “hates” his birthday. Not sure why I put hate in quotes, because while I don't literally hate my birthday (it's nice to be alive on most days), but I don't particularly like it either. It's not because of any vain reasons or because I think that my best years have passed me by, I just don't like it and it's really that simple.

Of course today (09/09/09*) is the day that the Beatles make their glorious return to the front burner of the American pop culture psyche when the Beatles Rock Band video game and two versions (mono and stereo) of every Beatles CD is released. You can buy the CDs separately or in one convenient box set, your choice, mate!

* Two things: one there will not be an a Posterisk every other paragraph, I promise. Two, do you realize that today is the last time that there will be able to write three singular numbers to delineate the date for 992 years? The next time you can do this is January 1, 3001. So in the future when your kids start giving you crap about not being able to figure out their technology, hit them with that piece of information.

I've written about this before, but one of my favorite episodes of “The Simpsons” is the one where Homer goes to clown college and becomes a regional Krusty the Klown. What sets up the crux of the plot is that Homer sees a billboard advertising the college and he says to himself, “Clown college? No way is that add working on me!” and for the rest of the act Homer sees clowns everywhere, culminating in the dinner-time line, “You people have stood in my way long enough! I'm going to clown college!”

I feel like Homer Simpson.

A couple of months ago I found about the Beatles video game and the rereleases and my first reaction was, “Rock Band sounds cool, but there is no way that I'm shelling out $250 for 11 CDs that I (mostly) own and haven't listened to in awhile. Sorry Sir Paul and Sir Ringo, but I'm keeping my cash, thank you very much.”

The blitz started innocently enough with some small articles in magazines, then a few ads on TV and next thing you know, I'm inundated with a full-fledged case of Beatlemania. There movies are on every channel, every magazine I look at has a full-fledged Beatle blitz and every radio station is playing one of their jazzy tunes. I can't escape it.

I've been listening to their albums again. I've considered buying a Wii so that I can get the Beatles Rock Band and I am seriously giving thought to buying the Beatles box set (the mono version) and have tried to fool myself into thinking that it's a good idea to drop $250 because:

- Hey, it's the mono version! I only have the stereo version and they aren't even remastered! How am I truly going to be able to appreciate the Beatles music while listening to them in stereo? I might as well be listening to it on an 8-track tape.

- I only have six of the Beatles ten studio albums (the box set comes with “Past Masters” which was released in the 90s, I believe). This is a great opportunity to get the other four for the low-low price of $62.50 per disk.

- CDs are a dying medium, who doesn't want to buy an instant collector's item?

- And this is the best reason, everyone else on the planet seems to be doing this. I may as well jump on the toboggan ride and see where it takes me.

Chances are I'm not going to succumb to the media hype, but it is interesting how my mind which was 100% made up not to even think about making a purchase of any of this stuff. But here I am a few months later and I am actually tossing it around in my mind. You might think that the next few paragraphs are going to be about the evils of capitalism, mass marketing and how the Beatles are the greediest bastards on the planet.

You're wrong.

The reason why there is marketing and advertising is because it works and it's needed. There are certain necessities that people don't need someone to tell them to get: a home, food, water or air. For everything else, there's Mastercard ... er, I mean there needs to be advertising.

Do you need a new iPhone? Or even a phone? The world worked pretty well before Alexander Graham Bell showed up, but through advertising the thought of having a phone has been implanted in your brain as no-questions-asked necessity. If you stop and think about it, there's really no need for 90% of the stuff in your house. None.

But if the only things that we consumed were things that we needed, life would be boring and a whole lot of people would be out of jobs. In order to have a stable economy and in turn a good life, we need to be tempted to buy things which will keep this capitalist machine chugging along. Life would be boring without its pointless baubles.

And as far as the Beatles having too much money, who is anyone to argue that anyone has “too much money”? I'm all for getting as much as you can—as long as your not going Madoff someone and the Beatles aren't doing this now. They're capitalizing on their popularity and good for them. Here's an interesting bit of trivia, do you know which CD released in the 00s has moved the most units? The Beatles #1s, which was released in the earlier part of this decade.

You'll never go broke selling nostalgia—especially when its aimed at baby boomers and future generations that believe that they missed something because they didn't grow up during that era. And I think that is what's so interesting about this latest marketing blitz: it's the perfect storm of taking something in the past and tying it to the future.

The Beatles made their first appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on February 7, 1964 a few months after America was shocked by the murder of their president—one could try and juxtapose the death of one Kennedy and the first wave of Beatlemania to the death of that Kennedy's brother and the next wave of Beatlemania, but it's a coincidence at best and it's not even worth bringing up. This was 45 years ago, even the youngest teens at the time are 57. The oldest, somewhere around 63.

A lot of the people who play video games like RockBand are in the lower spectrum of the 18-35 range and they know who the Beatles are and more importantly, like the Beatles. So the marketing range is from 18-63 years old (give or take a few years, especially on the lower end) which means a lot of people with disposable income. I can't think of another brand that has such an overlap of demographics; maybe beer or soda, but the price points for those products are nothing compared to what one new Beatles CD costs; never mind the video game or the boxed set.

If you like to watch the zeitgeist of American pop culture, the next few months are going to be very interesting as the Beatles are going to burn pretty hot. Eventually, there will be a cooling off period followed by something else that will inevitably grab the public's attention. What will it be? Will that product ape the marketing campaign of the Beatles? This is not the first time that video games and CDs have been married together and thrown to the American public in all forms of media, but it has the potential to be the most successful.* Who will be next?

* The thing that I've noticed a lot in the articles about the Beatles is how they are being compared to master painters or classical musicians. A reporter will ask, “Isn't this a big risk hoping that a band that is almost 50 years old and whose music is ubiquitous—almost saturating at this point—can still be a big money maker?” The person answering the question always says, “What about Bach? What about Beethoven? What about the Mona Lisa or the Sistine Chapel? Those things have been around for hundreds of years yet people still want to hear or see them.”

What I find most interesting is not that the works of the Beatles are being compared to works of Bach, Beethoven, da Vinci or Michaelangelo; but that apparently right now, the Beatles have undergone yet another transformation from flavor-of-the-month pop stars to voices of their generation to classical artists.

That's not too bad.

1 comment:

JohnG said...

Great column, I love the Homer Simpson reference, it was used perfectly.