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ONCE HE WAS PRINCE, BUT CAN HE RULE POP AGAIN?;FLAMBOYANT MUSICIAN TRIES ADOPTING CONVENTIONAL MARKETING FOR COMEBACK

By Published on .

The entertainment industry has come to expect the offbeat from the artist formerly known as Prince, but his latest head-scratcher might be his most remarkable yet. The mercurial pop star is planning an aggressive, conventional marketing campaign to back his first album for EMI-Capitol Music Group.

"Emancipation," due Nov. 19, is regarded as the singer's bid to revive a career that rocketed in the '80s before plummeting in recent years due to lackluster product and a feud with Warner Bros. over marketing and distribution.

CREATING HIS OWN STRATEGY

The performer is mapping out the strategy and funding most of the multimillion-dollar marketing push through his own NPG Records, said L. Londell McMillan, the performer's counsel and spokesman for the label.

Known for being press-shy and elusive, the musician will raise his profile in TV and radio ads for the new album breaking early this month. The ads were produced by the singer, with creative assistance from EMI.

A short concert scheduled for Nov. 12 at the performer's Paisley Park Studio in suburban Minneapolis will be syndicated to radio stations and will probably appear on TV; talks are under way with cable networks Black Entertainment Television, MTV: Music Television and VH-1: Video Hits One.

HEADED FOR `OPRAH'

On Nov. 21, the star will sit down with Oprah Winfrey for a rare TV interview on her daytime talk show.

"It's a smart strategy, the kind of marketing you expect from a star of his stature," said a veteran celebrity publicist. "He withdrew for a long while, wasn't willing to play the game. But this sounds like he's ready to re-enter the spotlight."

The performer also hopes to reach a new generation of fans-a very new generation. He has been signed to host an episode of "Muppets Tonight," expected to return to ABC's lineup early next year as a midseason replacement show.

`EMANCIPATION' CD SET

"Emancipation"-the title is a dig at Warner Bros.-is a 36-track, three-CD set of new material that will sell for less than $30.

Mr. McMillan said it's possible the CDs will be released separately later. Several singles and videos are planned, the first being a remake of the 1972 Stylistics hit "Betcha by Golly, Wow!"

A key element of the performer's new deal with EMI is that he can release product how and when he wants. The prolific singer averages an album a year and has been criticized for glutting the market with product, making it hard for Warner Bros. to market his stuff.

2-YEAR WORLD TOUR

"We're going to challenge the conventional wisdom that that's the wrong track to take," said Mr. McMillan.

Still, he said the performer intends to support "Emancipation" with a two-year world tour.

He also said the performer is open to corporate sponsorship of his upcoming global tour, a move industry watchers said would add more of a promotional punch.

"He's a potential liability because he's perceived by some as uncontrollable, but it's exactly that quality that generates interests in consumers," said Mitch Berk, president of Entertainment Marketing, which has brokered tour sponsorships for the Rolling Stones.

"His tour would be a great vehicle for an advertiser who needs to reach the demos that buy his records."

WILL FANS BUY?

Whether the performer will ultimately be able to draw new fans or get old ones to buy the most recent album remains to be seen.

"There's a presumption of pretension about him, and he's become such a pain and maybe even a bit of a joke," said Michael Schau, executive editor of the Entertainment Marketing Letter. "Besides, $30 is a lot to spend on anyone. He'll get the core fans. I doubt he'll crossover."

Counters the celebrity publicist: "People easily come back to artists, as long as their products cut it. If that wasn't the case, John Travolta could have never come back."

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