Motown's hoping fans will shop around for mementos

September 17, 1993|By Gary Graff | Gary Graff,Knight-Ridder News Service

Anders Odeholm strode out of the Motown Museum in Detroit, clutching the bag that held his souvenir T-shirt.

The Swedish auto writer describes himself as "a big Motown fan." While he was in Detroit on assignment, he couldn't pass up the opportunity to visit the original Hitsville headquarters and pick up an item that wasn't readily available back home.

Still, Mr. Odeholm was surprised there wasn't more to buy.

"This is very underdeveloped," said Mr. Odeholm, who studied marketing in college. "There are some world-class possibilities in marketing here. There's an unlimited possibility for items on each star, even. They could make that $300 million back easy."

"They" is PolyGram NV, which last month purchased Motown for $325 million. Even though the Motown Museum and the Motown label are not affiliated, Mr. Odeholm is on target about possibilities for marketing Motown-related products -- no

matter who is doing it.

And, yes, the Polygram NV goal is to market and merchandise the Motown logo so fans will be able to "Shop Around" for new collections of music, clothing, books and other memorabilia. They'll even have Motown cafes to snack in.

The principals at PolyGram and Motown realize they have a valuable trademark, a treasure chest of baby boomer memories filled with the music of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Four Tops and Stevie Wonder. But its potential has never been realized: Motown's handling of its music catalog has been scattershot and qualitatively uneven; and its merchandising has been practically nonexistent, paling in comparison to marketing triumphs by Walt Disney, Warner Bros. and even Harley Davidson.

Under new ownership, Motown plans to correct that. "We've been bought by a strategic partner that understands us . . . and will help to exploit the Motown logo, the Motown name," said company spokesman Michael Mitchell.

Already, the label has unveiled its new Master series with three anthologies -- two-volume collections each of Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Mary Wells and the Marvelettes. Two boxed sets are planned for October -- a Diana Ross anthology and "Hitsville II: 1972-1992," a sequel to last year's successful "Hitsville" box of Motown singles. There will also be an all-star compilation of Christmas music by Motown artists.

The music is just the start. The first Motown cafes might open next year, along with the unveiling of a line of apparel that will include items from T-shirts to ties. Books, historical videotapes, posters, video games and stereo equipment are among the other possibilities. Even Disney is getting into the Motown act; next August, in a joint venture with Hyperion Books, it will publish "Still Dancing in the Street," a Martha Reeves memoir co-authored by Detroit native Mark Bego. Disney may also make a movie based on Ms. Reeves' book.

So the marketing of Motown has begun in earnest. Are we ready for it? Do we really have the appetite for all of this music and merchandise?

Motown thinks the answer is yes. Mr. Odeholm says his Swedish countrymen are Motown crazy and likely to pull out their wallets for the label's offerings.

"Records, photos, special edition stuff -- I know lots of people

who would buy those things," Mr. Odeholm said.

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