Elvis 2nd To None: Sacrificial Lamb?

In a thought provoking article, Bryan Gruszka presents his theory about the realisation of 'Elvis 2nd To None'. A theory many fans may not agree with, but one that bears consideration.

Was BMG's idea for Elvis 2nd To None ill conceived? Was the album a sacrificial lamb, shackled by inadequate promotion, after the huge success of Elvis 30 #1 Hits?

Bryan Gruszka presents his views on these and other questions in this thought provoking article..

This is just a theory I have been kicking around about 2nd to None and the lack of advance promotion. Several months ago, BMG was commenting on how their projected sales figures for 2nd to None would be 6 million worldwide, with 2 million in the U.S. alone. More recent sales estimates are now 3.5 million worldwide - thus, BMG have quietly revised their sales figures and, in my opinion, have tailored their publicity to match.

My main question about 2TN publicity was not why there was none, but rather why the publicity onslaught began the day of release. Clearly this was not a case of BMG deciding to skimp on promotion, but rather a conscious choice on their part to delay promotion until the release date, as since 2TN has been released, promotion has, at least in my area (Chicago) been relatively obvious.

In contrast to E#1's, however, which had promo starting as early as June, 2TN had literally none in the Chicago area until the day of release. This is the major difference between the two releases. The question, of course, is the reason behind it. BMG, like other record labels, does their own internal sales projections, based on things that I don't have enough knowledge to comment specifically about, but suffice it to say that they know well beforehand roughly how much a release will sell the first week.

With the case of 2TN, my theory is that somewhere along the line (before the release) BMG realized that whether or not they ramped up advance publicity or they started publicity the day of the release, first week sales would not produce a number one record.

Additionally, BMG saw competition from other artists in the 2nd and third week (particularly Clay Aiken, who will definitely keep Elvis from having another #1 release) and made a decision to sacrifice advance publicity and first week sales for the hope of better 2nd week and possibly third week sales and a potentially higher chart position given that rap artists generally have weaker 2nd week sales than more "traditional" artists.

It is possible, too, that Clay Aiken's release might drop like a stone in the 2nd week of release, given that its release date was pushed back a few times (not a good indicator for sales) and this might help Elvis in the long run. Again, this is only a theory, but it makes sense in the sense that there has been a publicity blitz since the day of release (although still not on the level of E#1's) but practically nothing beforehand.

So what does this mean? Well, overall it means that Elvis may not get a #1 with 2TN, but does add another top ten and top 40 album to his credit (and possibly another platinum or multi-platinum album). I think that somewhere along the line BMG realized that another #1 might not be possible, and while I am most disappointed in the lack of advance publicity, I do think that there has been a huge shift in the thinking of the general public regarding Elvis.

To be honest, when E#1's was announced, I was not happy. Since that had been done before and particularly since the Beatles #1's had done so well, I assumed that BMG would have another release that did nothing due to lack of promotion, and it would be made doubly painful by its inevitable comparison to the Beatles #1's album's success. I was pleasantly surprised, though, and E#1's proved that, with killer publicity, even Elvis, who hasn't been a serious chart presence in many a year (again, in big part due to lack of promotion!) could score very well.

With the release of E#1's, the public now realized that Elvis is just as much of a chart presence as any other artist. It was about time that BMG gave Elvis his due, as other dead or "old" artists (Sinatra, Santana, the Beatles, Led Zeppelin to name a few) have been given. 2TN debuted at #3 with little advance publicity.

When was the last time an Elvis release did that? I can't remember a time. In addition, it did it without the strength of a catchy remix backed by a big ad campaign (and let's face it, Rubberneckin' was pretty much a worldwide flop), and it did it on the heels of a highly successful and highly touted, very similar compilation from just a year ago. That's pretty good overall.

While I will stress again that I am not happy at the lack of a #1 debut (as I think Elvis has been denied the #1 spot so many, many times in the past 10-12 years due to shameful lack of publicity from BMG), it still is a remarkable achievement for Elvis to go from not even being able to crack the Top 50 on the album charts with any release to having two top 3 albums in two years.

One more thing to consider, and I have no real evidence for this, is that 2TN was the "sacrifical lamb" album that was never meant to go to #1, but rather was meant to bridge the gap between E#1's and that 50th anniversary celebrations coming in 2004. It, at the very least, has kept Elvis in the public eye in a favorable light in the interim period, and that's a good thing.

Also, and perhaps most importantly, it has placed Elvis well within the realm of other artists that record stores and other merchandisers consider viable, which helps with future publicity as record stores and other outlets will be willing to promote Elvis releases along with BMG, rather than having BMG do all the work. No matter how much publicity materials BMG sends to record stores (and I am not saying they are good in this regard) if a store decides not to display it, it won't go up (excepting, of course, those instances where it's contractually obligated to do so).

Thus, if Elvis has the image of a popular seller, record stores will be more inclined to use publicity materials overall. Will BMG keep the ball rolling? Who knows. So far, although 2TN promotion was dismal compared to E#1's, there is something happening with Elvis, and his high chart placing cannot, in this case, be attributed to a barrage of publicity.

Does this mean the general public actually think Elvis is hip? That might be too much to hope for, but one cannot use the argument that it was simply Elvis fans buying 2TN, as if that were the case, every Elvis release would have big first week sales. 180 odd thousand in first week sales may seem small compared to E#1's (and justifiably so) but it's far and away much more than most Elvis releases (without publicity) achieve, so it must be more than just Elvis fans buying it. Also, 180 odd thousand in sales is also close to the #2 selling album, by a very contemporary artist...not bad.

The key, as always, is to keep Elvis in the spotlight, and if BMG manages to do this, and to keep up anticipation for each successive Elvis release, that, while not as good as a string of #1 albums, is, at the very least, very much better than what has come before.

Bryan Gruszka can be contacted at: drwhotrades@yahoo.com