Old Rockers Never Die They Just Switch To C Ds

Their 1971 monster hit Stairway to Heaven became an anthem for the rock generation. By the early 1980s, though, the Led Zeppelin band was largely a memory. But this year, the disbanded group went platinum again, selling 1 million boxed sets of old hits on compact disks for as much as $70 a set. And it wasn't a series of reunion concerts before frenzied teenagers that provoked the boom. Instead, the album's promoters got the word out to a mostly 30-plus crowd by means of a campaign that included ads on such couch-potato favorites as the ESPN and Arts & Entertainment Cable Network channels.

It's demographic marketing, and the target is aging Aquarians. For decades, producers of rock recordings have focused on younger consumers. But at 34 million, 15-to-25-year-olds are a much smaller market today than they were 10 years ago, when they numbered 42 million. And the $7.8 billion record industry needs to smooth out erratic sales, which ticked up a scant 4% last year after jumping 14% in 1990.

So why not woo the generation that got rock rolling in the first place? The 78 million boomers are entering their peak earning years, but they don't buy recordings at nearly the same rate as teens do (chart). Reaching this group means rethinking the standbys of rock-and-roll marketing. "They don't go to as many concerts, and they don't browse in the record stores," says Capitol Records sales head Lou Mann. "They'd rather stay home with the kids." And when they're home, boomer rock fans spend less time with those other mainstays of music promotion--Top 40 radio and MTV. "The industry still works under the assumption that if you get enough airtime, you can get a hit," says Larry Solters, whose Los Angeles-based Scoop Marketing promotes labels to boomers.

Relying on concerts and airplay alone could backfire if a performer's real market is the boomer, not the teenager. Witness the two new albums from 43-year-old Bruce Springsteen. Promoters did little to target the 25-and-over set for the albums, which were largely ignored by DJs catering to teens. Each sold a million copies--a disappointment for The Boss, whose 1987 album Tunnel of Love sold four million.

So the studios increasingly are pursuing boomers where they travel, shop, and play. So far this year, home-shopping channel QVC Shopping Network Inc. has peddled 2,000 sets of Capitol's 16-CD Beatles collection at $200 apiece. Hear Music in Wellesley, Mass., mails a catalog of light rock and jazz to 500,000 boomers. It will soon open record stores in Berkeley and Boston featuring selections geared to the 25-and-over crowd in a more sedate ambiance than the typical jangly Tower Records store.

More innovative marketing aims for the busiest and most affluent boomers. In April, Atlantic Records signed up a repackaging firm, Rhino Records, to remaster and sell its golden-oldie roster, which includes Ray Charles, Otis Redding, and other greats. Rhino's first effort for Atlantic involves an Aretha Franklin set that American Airlines Inc. will play on its in-flight audio system. The carrier's on-board magazine will plug the set, too, and offer CDs or cassettes through an 800 number.

COMMUTER CACHE. Motown figures Ford Motor Co.'s Taurus and similar models are aimed at the audience it wants. So it's talking to Ford about putting sampler recordings of the Supremes, the Temptations, and other artists in new cars. Capitol recently added flyers to rail passes mailed to commuters on New York's Metro North railroad. The test sold 900 CDs and tapes of 20 performers, including the Beatles and the Beach Boys, in a month.

And if boomers aren't exactly chillin' with MTV, they're still tuning in--albeit to fustier fare. So promoters are courting news and public-affairs shows. National Public Radio, for example, has become a forum for older rock stars. Arista Records Inc. booked 37-year-old former Eurythmics singer Annie Lennox on NPR's Morning Edition to promote her new solo album, Diva, which has sold over 500,000 copies in ten weeks. Capitol helped promote Bonnie Raitt's Nick of Time by having Raitt recount her battle with alcohol to Connie Chung on CBS's Face to Face. Nick of Time sold three million copies.

There's also an MTV for the superannuated set: VH-1, owned by MTV parent Viacom International. By catering to fans aged 25 to 45, VH-1 has become the country's fastest-growing cable channel, increasing by 6 million homes, to more than 48 million, in the past year. Advertising is up by 40%, says VH-1 President Edward A. Bennett, as record labels seek out joint promotions. VH-1, for example, recently pushed Warner Brothers' David Byrne and Los Lobos recordings in conjunction with a special sale by Sam Goody-MusicLand stores.

As marketers get more inventive and boomers get older, the target-marketing opportunities will multiply. Who knows? Maybe it won't be long before Mick Jagger tells all to Modern Maturity.

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