Ricky Nelson was the sole inspiration that coined the term “Teen Idol”. In his brief life, he was an influence upon the likes of Bob Dylan, earned a Golden Globe, recorded 20 Top Ten smashes, was the first artist to strike #1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and was granted enshrinement into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Accolades and shiny awards aside, Ricky Nelson as a brand was the pioneering force behind the now-essential marketing tool that is cross-promotion.
It was iconic father Ozzie Nelson's shrewd grasp of cross-promotion that led Ricky Nelson into the annals of legend, but do not cry nepotism; without the musical chops and smoldering good looks, the entire concept would have flopped. But Ricky did posess these qualities, and the collaboration’s effects have been felt for decades. Nelson became the first teen idol to employ the still novel medium of television to promote hit records, ultimately culminating into a rock and roll music career in 1957. Ozzie’s future world vision was to have Ricky close an Ozzie & Harriet episode by singing his current hit tune. Soon, most episodes of the Ozzie & Harriet television show ended with a musical performance by Ricky, most of the time non-congruent with any plot stoylines; essentially, it was free advertising on an already grossly popular franchise.
The theory was brilliant; the weekly family sitcom attracted millions of viewers, mostly families, and by incorporating Ricky’s music, teenagers would flock to the record shops for Nelson’s latest 45, while simultaneously softening the adult demographic on what was perceived to be a dangerous genre-Rock and Roll. Ozzie Nelson’s crystal ball told him that by winning over the teen audience, the Nelson dynasty would be gaining the approval of the parents as well. And the groundbreaking ventures did not stop there. Thirty years before the notion of Mtv sprouted wings,Ozzie Nelson had the idea to edit footage together to craft what would be some of the first music videos. This unchartered editing is seen in videos Ozzie produced for tracks such as"Travelin' Man", which still draw enormous views on media sharing sites such as YouTube.
During the sitcom's tenure, Ozzie Nelson brilliantly barred his son from appearing on other TV programs that could have enhanced his public profile, such as American Bandstand and The Ed Sullivan Show. The idea was simple; why advertise The Wall Street Journal in Forbes Magazine? By keeping the talented Pop star in-house (and in-family), the Nelson’s found themselves, at the time, morphing into a stand-alone kingdom-entertainment royalty.
The cross-promotion, marketing and brand ingenuity engineered by Ozzie Nelson is not only rampant in today’s competitive game, it is standard. Seemingly every established act has an undiscovered talent on some branch of the family tree, seemingly every actor is a singer, every singer an actor. The Brady kids tried to synthesize what came natural to the Nelson’s; the “show within a show” further exploited with modern hits such as Glee. Even product placement (think recurring character on a sitcom holding a can with the Pepsi logo pefectly visible) owes a gratitude to the genius of Ozzie Nelson.
And perhaps the biggest debt, whether he was talented or not, was owed by Ricky Nelson. The duo would have fit in well with another television giant of its time; Father Knows Best.