Elvis Presley would have turned 75 years old this weekend.
There’s no doubt about the incredible impact that Elvis had on music. He was the first to bring the raunchy mixture of blues and country to the mass mainstream of America. There were others before him who melded “black” and “white” music together, but Elvis was the first to reach massive recognition and acceptance.
The short Elvis story: his career skyrocketed in the late 50′s and early 60′s. However, in the 60′s his choice to perform in and endless string of formulaic movies accompanied by rather formulaic music resulted in his star fading. At the same time, rougher-edged music by The Beatles, Stones, Hendrix, Doors, and many others had become popular. By the time the 60′s ended, Elvis was widely regarded as a musical joke. Even as he attempted a comeback in the 70′s, his addiction to prescription drugs worsened and his health continued to slide. Although he was playing a record number of concerts, his weight ballooned and his health deteriorated. His short concerts became incoherent and his paranoia increased daily. When Elvis Presley died in 1977 he was hugely obese and generally sedated by painkillers.
There is hardly a musician alive who doesn’t owe credit to Elvis Presley. Since his death, Elvis has regularly topped Forbes magazine’s list of the highest-earning deceased celebrities. He remains the biggest-selling solo artist of all time. He has been rightfully inducted into the Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame. His home at Graceland attracts over a half million visitors a year.
Think about how his legacy might be viewed if he would have survived to 75. How would we look at the King of Rock ‘n Roll if he would have had 33 more years of battling drug addiction, obesity, and musical irrelevance?
Dying took away any opportunity to further destroy his legacy. It put an end to the circus show, and made Elvis music suddenly rare and valuable. His death gave Elvis Presley the chance to be remembered firstly for the musical brilliance of his youth, and secondarily for his later-life excesses.
It took his passing to save the brand.
That’s not really all that unusual. Quite often we crave what we can no longer have.
“Family Guy” was cancelled for 2 1/2 years before Fox TV brought it back based on massive DVD sales. It was only being without “Family Guy” that convinced Fox that it was worth having after all.
Volkswagen brought the Beetle back in 1998, after being out-of-production in most of the world for many years. Thanks to the Beetle, VW sales spiked dramatically in subsequent years. Having no Beetle at all made the Beetle valuable.
McDonald’s has successfully brought back the McRib sandwich on a regular basis, each time giving it a “Farwell tour” and stirring up plenty of “Save the McRib” publicity. Taking this otherwise forgettable food away makes those who appreciate it stand up and wave the flag.
“New Coke” may go down in history as one of the biggest marketing mistakes ever, but there is a school of thought that says it was all a well-planned strategy to increase passion for the brand. Planned or not, it definitely did dramatically increase the visible passion for the brand!
Often being rare, or even gone for good, is the only thing that can save a brand.