One of the great perks of working as an entertainment writer is the weird promotional stuff you get in the mail — cool things intended to amplify buzz around a project that can’t really be elaborate or useful enough to qualify as payola. Far beyond just t-shirts and hoodies, over the decades we’ve gotten everything from cufflinks to coasters, CD openers to mp3 players, clocks, dartboards, letter openers, stationery — we actually possess a Radiohead “Amnesiac” memo pad (get it?) from 2002 — Beach Boys beach balls, an embroidered Slayer denim jacket, Butthole Surfers toilet paper, a Bryan Ferry ashtray and even a snack-sized box of Tori Amos Corn Flakes (created to promote her 1994 single “Cornflake Girl”) that the singer reportedly rejected because she thought it was, well, ridiculous.
When the pandemic set in, the field entered a new realm, since there wasn’t much else a company could do to promote a project, so our doorstep was filled with big, elaborate boxes with food, booze, blankets, hats, mini loudspeakers, headphones, and lots more.
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But the George Harrison promotional gnomes that arrived yesterday are in a league all their own.
Created to promote the 50th anniversary of Harrison’s classic “All Things Must Pass” — which is almost universally regarded as the best Beatles solo album — the package includes miniature plastic reproductions of the four gnomes depicted on the album’s cover, along with a scale rendering of Harrison seated on a stool. The photo was taken by Barry Feinstein in 1970 at Friar Park, Harrison’s gorgeous, sprawling estate in Henley-on-Thames north of London, which was built in 1889 and originally owned by an eccentric lawyer named Sir Frankie Crisp (who even gets name-checked in one of the album’s songs). Friar Park has taken on an iconic status in Beatles lore, immortalized not only on this album but also the gloriously odd 1976 video for Harrison’s song “Crackerbox Palace,” which was directed by Monty Python’s Eric Idle and stars Harrison, his wife Olivia, Python auxiliary player Neil Innes and various other gnomes. Needless to say, the gnomes tug at the requisite Beatles fan’s heartstrings.
But equally, the sheer bizarreness of the item helps it to achieve its aim, which is to promote the project memorably. The box has very little identifying information but says “Gnome set” in large letters; just imagine coming home to, “Hey dad, somebody sent you gnomes.”
My family, long accustomed to (if not jaded by) such bounty, gathered around the box as I opened it, perplexed as to the who and why. There wasn’t even a press release explaining the anniversary campaign or anything — just the gnomes, plastic George and a box illustrated with the iconic photo’s background and lettering reading “George Harrison All Things Must Pass 50th Anniversary.” But the sender also knew that no further information was necessary for the target audience: We’re not likely to forget that the 50th anniversary edition is coming.
Of course, within seconds the mocking set in. “You’re going out to dinner tomorrow? Why don’t you bring the gnomes?,” my wife said, adding with a mincing dance, “That way everyone will know, ‘I’m so important that people send me gnomes that I didn’t even ask for.’” And it’s probably just a matter of time before various representatives find their inboxes filled with emails demanding, “Where are my gnomes?”
The package is ecologically indefensible — lumps of plastic housed in two boxes with styrofoam molds — but we’ve certainly seen more wasteful items in our day. And damned if it doesn’t succeed mightily at the objective, which is to make an impression. We’ll not only remember the project, but the cleverness of the campaign casts it in an even more positive light.
Some people take such items and throw them onto eBay at outlandish prices, but that’s basically a way of guaranteeing that your days of unexpectedly finding gnomes on your doorstep are numbered. What will become of mine? Only the gnomes will know …
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