Thesis: Skills in event creation and performance can be applied to marketing appropriately and effectively. If stunt marketing is selling out, it is selling out in a very classy way.
I was in London for a few days in the late spring of 2004. I’d been doing weeks of country walking in England and Wales and decided to finish the trip with some urban time to see some plays and knock the sheep droppings off my boots. None of that is very important, but it sets a little context.
I went to a matinee of Much Ado at Shakespeare’s Globe, an all female production that was very well put together. I especially remember their Don John. This is a role that I think can make or break a Much Ado. Theirs struck me as doing good work, but maybe a shade too young. Completely slipped my mind that many would consider her too female for it. She and everyone else had completely inhabited whichever gender the role required. The all-woman nature of the cast disappeared. That’s not the stunt I’m writing about.
As I squashed out of the place the exit line suddenly backed up. There was some kind of disturbance going on in New Globe Walk. A group of four people was carrying placards calling for the rejection of American Theater in London. London should be kept pure for British Theatre. They were loud and boisterous and seemed sincere. Then I noticed they had a pile of confederates all around the outside of the crowd they had drawn leafleting a show performing that night over at the Menier Chocolate Factory called Americana Absurdum.
I took a flyer and saw the show that evening. It was a great deal of fun and thought provoking and well produced – totally legitimate theatre. You can find a review of it here:
Looking back on it, there were four factors that made this terrific stunt marketing.
1. The artistic style of the stunt was closely aligned with the artistic style of the piece marketed. I suppose this encapsulates the idea that the stunt itself was richly theatrical.
2. They harvested a captive audience, gathered by someone else’s efforts, who were very likely to be hooked by their message. Hundreds of demonstrated playgoers who had just proven we could find a performing venue in Southwark.
3. It was brief and focused. They rapidly riveted attention then delivered the call to action.
4. The stunt was sort of wild, but it remained respectful and legal throughout. Don’t want to have to hold curtain because you’re bailing out a performer.
I roll this out to the world as a terrific example, worthy of emulation, and to point out that I had to dig back 9 years to come up with such a good example. In board gaming, one broad strategy applicable to many games is “Do what the other players aren’t doing.” In many markets, with a minor exception for festival periods, stunt marketing is very much something the other players aren’t doing. It would be impactful even if many companies were using it frequently; but early adopters will reap exaggerated awards.
As ever, I welcome better and fresher examples. What kind of marketing stunts have you pulled? Did they draw audience? Were they artistically fulfilling? Did you feel cheap afterwards? I think that’s what most people are needlessly afraid of.
Self ordained chaplain of the American theatre.