Invest in unknowns to make them stars (reinvent marketing idea)

02.13.13 | 4 Comments

CATEGORIES Uncategorized

Thesis: Celebrity is one of the strongest social forces in America. Increasingly, though, people are responding to apparently oxymoronic “Narrow fame;” that is, being highly salient for some quality among a modest sized niche of people. Theatre companies can take advantage of this phenomenon by promoting their currently unknown performers as though they were already well known.

I am indebted for this idea to DC actor Danny Gavigan and a bunch of his friends for a recent Facebook thread. Danny posted a question about why local actors’ names are not used in theatre marketing imagery when their faces are. The level of commentary and discourse that followed was, for the internet, unusually high.

The most nearly persuasive argument against including names of not-yet-famous actors is that any additional language on an advertising creative has the potential to distract a viewer from the central call to action – please attend this show. It’s not an idiotic concern. I’ve worked with mass advertising before. Clutter in many circumstances does depress choice. However (as I’ve written previously) for art theatre, mass advertising is a less and less productive tool. Most of your communication should be directed to people with whom you already have some connection and plan to have a connection into the future.

Jason Schlafstein, of Flying V Theatre, brought into the discussion the idea that including the name of an unknown who you want to work with in the future is essentially an investment. You are teaching prospective and actual audience members that performer’s name. Do that a few times over a few years, and with your target audience, you may help that performer achieve a narrow fame that you can harvest as a draw on future productions.

If including actor names in your imagery is the only thing you do to teach audience about your stable of go-to actors, you probably won’t make much headway. However, as one tactic in a broad strategy to build relationships and admiration between your artists and your audience members, it could be a significant contributor.

How else can you create and harvest narrow fame in your operations? Oh, and might you get better work out of people if you were part of making them feel more valued?

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Pete Miller

IT and Arts leader, playgoer, board game player, home brewer.
Self ordained chaplain of the American theatre.
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  • Sara

    I understand that some skeptics worry, particularly in a town where ensemble productions are the rule, that if you call out the name of one or two actors in a show in your print materials or on your web site, that other actors or your designers or other affiliated artists, might take issue.

    I don’t think that’s the best argument against naming the featured actor(s) in your show on posters and postcards, but I do see that it’s not a one-size-fits-all-productions suggestion.

    • Sara,

      I think you are hitting on a larger issue which is really important to consider and something we don’t always talk about in that we as a community of artists often look at our art as different and not the same for everyone, but the way we create it, the way we market it and the way we discuss about it is not one-size-fits-all. And it shouldn’t be to be successful. We often times should take more time and consideration but in balancing time, energy, knowledge, and art causes us to use the way we have always done things or the way we have always seen things be done.

      Not everyone, but a majority.

  • Adrienne Nelson

    We see at least one production a week. Most of what dictates our choice/s is knowing someone in the production or design team- not the theater or the show. Theatre Alliance used to be brilliant at always including ALL the names involved, including the SM. I know this isn’t always possible with deadlines though when it is, I would highly recommend this kind of marketing.

  • As an actor, I frequently have trouble getting out to see as many productions as I’d like because of conflicting schedules, which forces me to be selective about what to shows I attend. Nine times out ten, when I do get to see a show, it has much more to do with the people involved and less to do with the project.
    Consider this; you find two post-cards for two different productions. Both are equally attractive opportunities but one post-card has the artists names listed and you notice there is a name you recognize. Which are you more likely to go see? The one where you don’t know who you’ll be watching, or the one where you do know who you’ll be watching? Certainly in some forms of advertising it isn’t as practical to list the entire cast list, but on a post-card or poster, it’s potentially a missed opportunity to pull in a few extra audience members at zero cost.

    -just my .02