Monday, February 10, 2014

The First Half Century of Beatles Marketing

Fifty years ago, the Beatles made their US television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Was it "The Night That Changed America," which is the name of the TV special paying tribute to this major musical event?

It was certainly a big merchandising event by any standard, then and now. As the British Invasion took hold through the 1960s, Beatles wigs, stationery, lunch boxes, posters, paper plates, buttons, hats, and other branded merchandise showed up on store shelves everywhere. Just use your favorite search engine to look for "Beatles merchandise" and vintage images will flood in--from Beatles Scrabble and Monopoly games to dolls, mugs, T-shirts, toys, wristwatches, you name it.

Over the years, the Beatles and family tightened control over their merchandise and marketing, to maintain the brand and its image. In fact, the Beatles filed suit after Michael Jackson's company licensed Revolution to Nike for a 1987 commercial (Jackson's company owned the rights to Beatles music at that time). You can view the commercial here. The lawsuit was settled and the Nike ad stopped airing after a time, but some people continued to express outrage whenever other high-profile performers licensed their music for commercial use.

For the past 20-plus years, the Beatles have been marketing faves in many categories of goods and services, not just music and books. Three examples: tourism (Liverpool, for instance), replicas of Beatles iconic items, and live shows by non-Beatles about the Beatles (Beatlemania and spinoffs, for example). The Beatles are part of history (you can see write-ups and programs on the History Channel, among others). Beatles merchandise (see photos above) has even been featured at Disney theme parks.

Given the Beatles' perennial popularity among successive generations of music lovers, I expect Beatles marketing to continue strong for the next half century. Of course, the offerings may be entirely different--in part, due to technology--but the echoes of John, Paul, George, and Ringo will be unmistakeable.

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