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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

The brand Elvis Presley

From the tackiest of ceramic sculptures to slick ad campaigns it is Elvis everywhere as an expo at Memphis proves.

art-and-culture Updated: Aug 15, 2007 13:53 IST
Mira Oberman
Mira Oberman

Elvis is pulling in more money 30 years after his death than he did at the height of his career as his iconic image graces everything from the tackiest of ceramic sculptures to slick ad campaigns.

His face, his hair, his jumpsuits and his stance are instantly recognisable and they adorn just about everything imaginable, and much that is unbelievable.

A hundred merchants set up shop at an Elvis week expo in Memphis to ply their wares to the devoted fans who came to pay from across the globe to pay their respect to the King.

There are - of course - the decorative plates, the posters, the blankets, the lighters, the watches, the jumpsuits and the playing cards. But Elvis boxer shorts? A singing, animatronic bust of Elvis? <b1>

Organic, fair-trade Elvis coffee and California-grown Elvis merlot and shiraz? Ari Heino of Finland dropped $87 on a replica of a horseshoe ring that was designed by Elvis in the 1950's.

There were others on sale for ten dollars, but this one looked like a closer copy. "It's not gold, but maybe someday I'll make it solid gold," the 56-year-old banker told AFP.

Everything in the expo is licensed by Elvis Presley Enterprises, which carefully manages him image and rejects all but about two percent of the thousands of requests it receives every year to use the Elvis image and name.

"The tacky unlicensed merchandise, that's a continuous and ongoing battle that is fought by our legal department," said Jack Soden, chief executive officer of Elvis Presley Enterprises.

These losses are small change compared to the millions made through licenses to deep pocketed merchandisers like Hershey's, which has launched a limited edition peanut butter and banana Reese's cup in honor of the King's favorite sandwich.

But the battle is waged to protect the value of the Elvis brand, although Soden prefers to use the word legacy. Unflattering products are simply disappeared from the market place.

And footage of Elvis in his last days, when he was overweight and forgetting lyrics on stage, is kept locked in the vault, something Soden compared to sticking an unflattering photo at the bottom of the drawer.

Elvis Presley Enterprises pulled in $48 million last year, about 13.6 million of which came from licensing. That figure is expected to grow rapidly under the management of billionaire Robert Sillerman, who bought an 85 per cent stake in the company for over $100 million in 2005.

"The Presley family - Lisa Marie and Priscilla - never had the money to really market Elvis the way he should have been," said Amos Maki, a reporter at the Memphis Commercial Appeal who covers the business side of Graceland. "They've done a pretty darn good job themselves with minimal resources. Now with Sillerman they're thinking on a whole different plane."

It starts with a $250 million expansion and renovation of Graceland and the Heartbreak Hotel that will bring a convention center to the downtrodden neighborhood and the latest in interactive exhibits to the dated museum that has seen attendance dip in recent years.

Then there's an Elvis entertainment center in Las Vegas, complete with an Elvis-themed touring Cirque de Soleil show. And there is talk of a hotel and casino in Vegas as well.

"The expectations for Elvis are virtually exponential," Soden said in a telephone interview. "The Elvis phenomenon is bigger than it's ever been." One reason for that is because the media market place has expanded so rapidly in the past thirty years, as has our desire for popular culture, said Andrew Bergstein, a marketing professor at Penn State University.

"We have so many different ways to distribute popular culture and it lasts a lot longer," he said. There isn't enough money in the marketing industry to generate new images and ideas to go with every product. And besides, consumers are drawn to familiar images and have a nostalgic attachment to the past. "Elvis, by the very nature of who he was, he's taken on a life of his own."

First Published: Aug 14, 2007 16:26 IST