The Ed Sullivan Impact and Your Business

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Tomorrow—February 9, 2009—will mark the 45th anniversary of the Beatles’ historic first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. An estimated 73 million people—roughly half of the U.S. population at the time—watched as the Beatles performed five songs that night (All My Loving, Till There Was You, She Loves You, I Saw Her Standing There, and I Want To Hold Your Hand). Although just a little kid at the time, I was one of those 73 million. For that I have to thank my mom, who in a very cool and prescient move, woke me up and brought me downstairs to see the Moptops from England. How she knew that this would be important enough to let me stay up past my bedtime, I’ll never know. But I distinctly remember sitting cross-legged on the rug in front of the black-and-white RCA TV, laughing hysterically over the length of the hair on these four funny-looking guys!

It’s been called the single most important event in the history of rock music. But why is that? What is it about that moment that changed the future of music—quite literally overnight? And what can we learn from this to help us achieve more success in our own businesses?

There are a number of factors that contributed to the success of the Beatles’ Sullivan appearance that night:

  • the country was still reeling over the recent assassination of JFK, and was looking for an emotional release;
  • songs like She Loves You and I Want To Hold Your Hand made the teenagers go wild, but the second song the Beatles sang that night, Till There Was You, was a love ballad from the Broadway musical The Music Man, which made the Fabs seem safe to the parents (“Yes, the look kind of strange and most of their music is too fast, but they did that nice song from that nice musical, so they can’t be all bad!”);
  • they were from England which, in those days before widespread international travel, made them seem exotic.

But I think if you want to put all the reasons for the Beatles’ impact that night into one nutshell, it would be this:

They were different and exciting.

America had never seen anything like the Beatles before. The music, the hair, the attitude—it was all fresh and new. Whether you liked them or not, you couldn’t watch that night without saying to yourself, “Wow—now this is different!”

I don’t know what business you’re in. I don’t know what product or service you offer. But no matter what it is, do you offer it in such a way that your customers and prospective customers say to themselves, “Wow—now this is different!”? Do you truly stand out from the competition?

The Beatles had competition. There were other musical acts in America on February 9, 1964. There were even other rock and roll bands. But the Beatles found ways to stand out from the competition. You may or may not have liked their music, but it was impossible not to notice them.

So what can you do in your business to truly stand out—to be “impossible not to notice”? It may take a bit of creativity, a bit of innovative thinking, to find the answer. But I assure you the answer is there. Last week Denny’s Restaurants made headlines coast-to-coast by offering a free Grand Slam breakfast to everybody in the country. People noticed. Whether you like Dennys’ or not, whether you took advantage of the free breakfast offer or not, you couldn’t hear about the offer without thinking, “Wow—now this is different!”

Take some time this week to think about your business. How can you become “impossible not to notice”? How can you create the same impact in your world today that the Beatles created in their world 45 years ago tomorrow?


About the Author:

29-time Emmy Award winner and Hall of Fame keynote speaker Bill Stainton, CSP is an expert on Innovation, Creativity, and Breakthrough Thinking. He helps leaders and their teams come up with innovative solutions — on demand — to their most challenging problems.
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