Elvis Wasn’t Scared. Why Are You?

In the movie Blue Hawaii from 1961, Elvis Presley sings a song entitled “Rock-A-Hula Baby.” It’s dopey in that Elvis-singing-in-a-movie kind of way, but it also contains a lyric that cuts much deeper than you would think for the early 1960s. I don’t know who Benjamin Weisman, Delores Fuller and Fred Wise were, but these songwriters came up with this gem for the king of rock and roll to sing:

The way she moves her hips to her fingertips
I feel I’m heaven bound
And when she starts to sway, I’ve gotta say
She really move the grass around

Again, this is 1961 – and that last line is just packed with innuendos, along with a word that rhymes / implies that the dancer is shaking more than just her skirt. I’m not a big Elvis fan (I know, I know, sorry) so I had just chalked this song up to one of those hokey songs that I would hear once in a while on my parents’ record player or on the oldies radio station. But when it came on Spotify recently, that lyric caught my attention – so much so that I stopped what I was doing and looked it up. I thought for sure I had misheard something.

Nope, Elvis and his team knew exactly what they were doing way back then. I guarantee that it wasn’t an accident that grass sounds just like, well, you know.

Their point was to grab the listener’s attention, and I can’t tell you how cool it was that it worked perfectly more than 60 years after it was released – on a guy who generally presses “skip” on Elvis songs.

This lyric is a great example of how to be just edgy enough to get attention without crossing over into being off-putting. It got attention then (making it all the way to #23 in the United States), and it gets attention now, yet advertisers still lose their nerve when presented with similarly creative ideas for selling their products and services. “What if somebody gets offended?” they ask themselves.

Here’s the thing – I am fairly certain some moviegoers in 1961 clutched their pearls and fainted when they saw Elvis in a flower-print shirt swaying his hips and singing an ode to a woman shaking some “grass,” but those people were a tiny, no-sense-of-humor minority. In other words, it was worth it for Elvis to rub a few squares the wrong way in order to make the vast majority of listeners smile.

Here’s a litmus test that I use to determine “how edgy is too edgy?” when it comes to a selling message. Think back to the last time you saw or heard an advertisement or similar selling message and said to yourself, “I dislike that message so much I am not going to purchase from that company.” Many of us – I would say most of us – have never said that to ourselves. Not once. We may say “wow – I can’t believe they said that” or even “that’s too much,” but it doesn’t make us so mad that we wouldn’t buy the product. And if it doesn’t make us mad, then all that message did was get our attention. Mission accomplished.

There is a paradox here: you can’t be dull and get attention. All companies want to get attention, but they’re afraid to stop being dull.

That creates an opportunity for you and your selling messages. Don’t let fear take the spark out of your branding. You don’t have to get too crazy to stand out in a sea of “me-too” messages. A tiny bit of wordplay might be just the kick in the grass that your messaging needs.