- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 19, 2008

Die-hard fans of the notoriously noisy rock band AC/DC will be back in black tonight - at a Wal-Mart store near you.

“Black Ice,” the first new AC/DC album release in eight years, will be available exclusively at Wal-Mart stores beginning at midnight Sunday.

Wal-Mart was busy promoting the event this weekend with elaborate in-store displays featuring the band’s CDs, videos, T-shirts and other merchandise. Fans also get a chance to test their guitar-playing chops on a Rock Band video game, which plans to roll out an AC/DC track pack Nov. 2. The Wal-Mart displays will stay up until Nov. 19.

Brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling to find ways to entice music fans to their stores in the Internet age, when music is just a mouse-click away through online services such as iTunes and Napster.

These days it is not enough to set up a cardboard display to announce a new album, especially from a band that has been dormant since 2000. Retailers must give customers a reason to keep coming back.

“It’s not about how nifty the packaging is, it’s about how deep the experience is,” said Martin Codd, director of production at RedPeg Marketing, an Alexandria firm that specializes in nontraditional marketing.

Wal-Mart has scored before as exclusive retailer of Eagles and Garth Brooks CDs. Other retailers including Target and Best Buy have conducted similar promotions, even offering customers exclusive discs of bonus materials for buying certain CDs at their stores.

But this is different. For the AC/DC rollout, 3,500 Wal-Mart stores will feature “pop-up” stores selling everything AC/DC, from past albums and DVDs to T-shirts and other memorabilia. In the Washington area, only Wal-Mart’s Woodbridge and Manassas stores, which are open 24 hours a day, will be selling the new album at midnight on Sunday.

“We’re doing this to create a sort of entertainment destination,” said E.R. Anderson, media director for Wal-Mart’s Mid-Atlantic region.

The elaborate display at Wal-Mart’s Fair Lakes store took nearly four hours to set up, according to store manager Nathan Keller. Customers were already browsing the T-shirts Thursday night.

The target audience for the display is 17- to 25-year-olds who will play the Rock Band game and might know AC/DC’s music from other air-guitar video games, according to Jennifer Kaszuba, the store’s electronic merchandiser.

Video games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero, which feature classic and modern rock songs that players can strum along with, have resonated with young people in recent years, exposing them to songs their parents might be keeping in boxes in the attic.

The games feature bands like Aerosmith, Motley Crue and the Rolling Stones, putting the power ballads and rock ‘n’ roll anthems of the 1980s back in the forefront of pop culture with a new generation.

“We’re targeting [young people], but we think it’s going to be an entire household,” Ms. Kaszuba said.

AC/DC recordings are routinely best-sellers at Wal-Mart, Ms. Anderson said.

“They are legendary, so we suspect that the traditional audience will be back for the new release and maybe even some younger fans interested in Rock Band and the video game side,” she said.

Wal-Mart stores have been getting calls from fans making sure that the release date for the album has not changed. “Right now, this one is written in stone,” Ms. Kaszuba said.

“It’s kind of exciting how many people are interested in it,” Ms. Anderson said.

Fans of the Australian rock band have been eagerly counting down the days until the new album’s release. Many have already listened to the album on AC/DC’s official Web site, while others are refusing to listen until they have their own copy. ACDCRocks.com contains a “Thread for people who are waiting for new album to come out to listen to it.”

“We are the strong,” posters proclaim. “Hurrah for the people with self-discipline!”

Adam Arnoldussen, a 35-year-old resident of Green Bay, Wis., started the thread.

“It’s kind of like waiting to open your presents until Christmas,” said Mr. Arnoldussen, who says he had been a fan of AC/DC since 1986 when the band released “Who Made Who” and the cool kids on the school bus were playing it.

Another poster noted that many fans pre-ordered the new album to make sure a copy would be waiting for them at a Wal-Mart store or in their mailbox. Others plan to buy the CD at Wal-Mart at midnight.

Mr. Arnoldussen said he plans to be one of those people. “I’ve been waiting eight years,” he said. “It’s just gonna rock.”

Wal-Mart hopes that while he’s there, he will check out the T-shirts and video games before heading out the door.

“Wal-Mart has the ability to put together a package such as this,” said Mr. Codd of RedPeg Marketing. “I think it’s very smart.”

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