In a distribution hypefest that hasn't been seen since Windows 95, the release of the first volume of "The Beatles Anthology" will become an event unto itself within a media and marketing event that may be as big as the original landing of the Fab Four on U.S. turf three decades ago.
The unusual mode of distribution-overnight express delivery-for the double-album set is just one example of the ways marketing conventions are being discarded in this wave of Beatlemarketmania. The delivery scheme was necessitated by the unusual terms of Apple Records' deal with ABC.
ABC, as part of its three-night Beatles retrospective that also kicks off Nov. 19, has exclusive rights to the first worldwide airing of "Free as a Bird," a new Beatles cut adapted from previously unreleased tracks. But that song is also on Volume 1 of the three-volume "Anthology," so Capitol Records and parent EMI had to find a way to maintain security and fulfill the immediate demand the ABC telecast will generate.
"Normally, the manufacturing and shipping cycle in the music industry is about two weeks, but in this instance, we couldn't rely on that. The only way we felt we could safeguard the integrity of the worldwide premiere on ABC was to literally drop-ship it overnight," said Capitol Exec VP Bruce Kirkland.
What threatened to be a marketing obstacle is being transformed into an inspired marketing solution that could lead to changes in the way the music industry distributes its products.
And if the "Anthology" release is any indication, overnight shippers are eager to play.
Both Federal Express Corp. and United Parcel Service offered to partner on cross-promotional media blitzes that would have included an extensive TV ad campaign that would have, in effect, told the story of how the albums are being distributed.
Initially, FedEx sought to back the release with a multimillion-dollar ad campaign that would have used special effects technology to insert a FedEx courier in archival footage of the Beatles stepping off the plane in New York in their original U.S. invasion of 1965.
But Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, George Harrison and Yoko Ono (widow of John Lennon) vetoed the promotional tie-in, Mr. Kirkland said, because they don't want to be seen as commercializing the event.
Mr. Kirkland estimated the ad tie-in would have been equal to or greater than the money ABC and Capitol are investing in promoting the telecast, which industry executives place at about $20 million.
Capitol elected to go ahead with the overnight shipping concept using UPS, which benefits from the visibility as well as the "Anthology" business itself, and to exploit the arrangement for its public relations value.
It seems like everything about the "Anthology" release is breaking marketing norms. For Capitol and EMI, the ABC telecast serves as the promotional platform to kick off a yearlong blitz that will push the three double-CD volumes and a home videocassette release of "Anthology," as well as special commemorative releases of 13 core Beatles albums.
Because the ABC telecast will generate huge awareness, Capitol will reserve much of its marketing muscle for the release of Volume 2 in February, and Volume 3 and the video series in April.
But Capitol is making media buys to help ABC on outlets that the network is prohibited from buying itself to promote the 6-hour, three-night November sweeps TV event: the other broadcast networks. Capitol is making extensive buys on CBS, NBC and Fox affiliates in the top 20 markets.
While the ads won't be tune-in for the ABC special airing Nov. 19, 22 and 23, they will look virtually identical to ABC's own advertising and promotion work created by Grey Entertainment, New York. That's because Capitol, which usually handles its creative in-house, retained Grey for this phase of the project.
The collaborative media blitz will also include an unprecedented array of conventional and unusual guerrilla media tactics, including "building wraps" of Capitol's Los Angeles tower and ABC's Century City headquarters.
ABC will use a variety of alternative media, including promo spots in Blockbuster Video stores, recorded Beatles messages for patrons on hold on Tickermaster phone lines, Screenvision Cinema Network's in-theater movie ads and the Sony Jumbotron screen in Times Square, as well as thousands of ads on buses and bus shelters in New York and Los Angeles.
But perhaps the most attention-getting stunt will be buses in New York and L.A. that are being transformed into "Yellow Submarines" by pop artist Peter Max.