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How Marketing Primed the U.S. for Beatlemania
This year marks the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ final album, Abbey Road. Today, the Fab Four’s success feels like a foregone conclusion. But Beatlemania was brought to life through a major marketing push and a bit of lucky timing.
By 1963, The Beatles had put in their 10,000 hours and were a hit in the UK. In the United States, reports of British Beatlemania were less than enthusiastic. One CBS news spot said four lads “make non-music and wear non-haircuts.”
Using Wigs in The Beatles Marketing
The fact that their parents just didn’t get The Beatles was a huge selling point with American teens. Capitol Records — the band’s US record label — even included snarky comments from critics and other grownups in its marketing materials. It was all part of a marketing plan masterminded by band manager Brian Epstein to get people excited about The Beatles’ arrival in the U.S. Sales and radio promo staff wore Beatles wigs around the office. Assistants answered the phone with “Capitol Records – The Beatles are Coming.”
Despite the marketing blitz, Capitol didn’t plan on actually releasing any Beatles music until after Christmas. That changed when a D.C. radio station got ahold of a copy of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” from a flight attendant returning from England. The music written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney hit the American airwaves for the first time on Dec. 17, 1963.
Capitol Records went into crisis mode. It ramped up production and released the record as quickly as it could on December 26. But it wasn’t record sales that first propelled The Beatles to superstardom – it was sales of transistor radios.
Before the Walkman, iPods and Spotify, there were Transistor Radios
The transistor radio was THE gift of Christmas 1963. Nearly 5 million radios were sold that year alone. On the day after Christmas, radio stations nationwide had a brand new single to spin for millions of kids firing up their transistor radios for the first time. The radios were portable and had earplugs, which meant kids could listen all day long and after their parents went to bed.
A few months later, The Beatles would headline The Ed Sullivan Show and launch the British Invasion. Today, we’re still talking about John, Paul, George and Ringo.
Maybe as the 2019 movie Yesterday from director Danny Boyle suggests, The Beatles’ music was so good across so many studio albums that their popularity was inevitable. But the real story of The Beatles’ first impression in the U.S. shows the importance of getting your product to your audience at the right time and via the right medium. In 1963, it was the day after Christmas on a transistor radio. Today, there are a lot more channels to choose from.