Rockin’ Resolution: Multimillion dollar Elvis business hopes to connect with new generation

Published 8:04 pm Friday, December 29, 2006

Teenagers in the 1950s and ’60s went wild over Elvis Presley, much to the consternation of their parents, but kids in the new millennium aren’t so stirred by rock ’n’ roll’s original rebel.

“I can’t try to sell somebody Elvis who doesn’t know who he is … that he’s not just some guy who’s been gone for 30 years,” said Paul Jankowski, chief of marketing for Elvis Presley Enterprises Inc.

Next year, three decades after Presley’s death, the multimillion dollar Elvis business will try to connect with a new generation of teenage fans.

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“Our opportunity demographic is really going to be 12 to 34 (years old), with a sweet spot around the 18-to-24 area,” Jankowski said.

In the early days of Presley’s career, teenagers gathered at jukeboxes or around 45-rpm turntables. Now the music has moved to the Internet, on sites like MySpace, which is part of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., and Google Inc.’s YouTube.

Next year more film clips, photos and other material from the vast Presley archives will be showing up online.

“We will take our MySpace page and we will focus on expanding our number of friends on MySpace, that kind of thing,” Jankowski said. “There’s all kind of Elvis content on YouTube, things that we put up, things that fans put up.”

MySpace is a social-networking site that lets visitors share photos and personal Web pages. YouTube lets users post and share videos.

The Elvis archives offer a rich source of material for “digital tactics,” Jankowski said. “You know, for cell phones or doing wallpaper or doing podcasts.”

Moving Elvis content online should be easy; making Elvis cool again will be more difficult. After all, for most kids, Elvis is the music of their parents’ — or grandparents’ — generation.

Aaron O’Connell, a 17-year-old from Fredericksburg, Va., who was visiting souvenir shops at Graceland, said it could be tough to make Elvis relevant again.

“Probably in today’s world, like, he wouldn’t be as cool, but back then he probably was,” said O’Connell, a high school junior in town for the Liberty Bowl football game.

Presley managers are preparing for a big year, particularly for the weeklong series of concerts, fan-club gatherings and other death anniversary events held each August at Graceland, which draws more than 600,000 visitors annually.

Presley died of heart disease and prescription drug abuse at age 42 at Graceland on Aug. 16, 1977.

Elvis Presley Enterprises has more than 200 licensees producing souvenirs and signature products, and new ones for 2007 will have a youthful focus, like a peanut butter and banana cream candy bar from Hershey with the King’s picture on the wrapper.

A Harley-Davidson dealer, with plans to open an office at Graceland, is coming out with a limited line of 30 custom-made motorcycles — just like the ones Elvis rode.

Prices aren’t yet set, but the one-of-a-kind Harleys could run up to $50,000. And while that’s well beyond the reach of most teenagers — or Elvis fans in general — the replica bikes are also part of the cool factor in Presley marketing.

“The new owners will be flown to Memphis and they’ll pick their bikes up at the steps of Graceland,” Jankowski said.

Jankowski was brought to Memphis by CKX Inc., the company that took over Elvis Presley Enterprises and Graceland after buying the rights to Presley’s name and image last year from daughter Lisa Marie.

Forbes magazine says Elvis, one of the top-grossing dead celebrities, brought in $42 million over the past year. But with the aging of Presley’s longtime base of admirers, EPE needs a new wave of younger fans.

“We want to reinvigorate our core demographic and grow it,” Jankowski said, “while we introduce the icon to the next generation.”

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