"Producer's Corner" by Bruce Lazarus Truth in Advertising, Part II: Children Will Listen
A recent guest at my live Producing Commercial Theatre class was Nancy Coyne of the Serino Coyne advertising agency, the premiere advertising agency for Broadway shows. Nancy has been in theatrical advertising for 24 years, and recently celebrated her 20th anniversary with her agency. A short list of Broadway shows past and present that have used Serino Coyne to create memorable advertisements include Jekyll and Hyde; A Chorus Line; Evita; 42nd Street; Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk; Beauty and the Beast; and the current Broadway productions of The Sound of Music and the Lion King. In addition to finding a target audience and the difference between television and radio advertising, discussed in a previous Producer's Corner, Nancy talked about the importance of keeping Broadway healthy now and into the future by accommodating the baby boomer parents who want to take their families to Broadway shows but are hampered by the expense and the schedule.
There has never been a better time to be involved in theatre in New York, Nancy opined, and with the population growing, there cannot be too many shows that appeal to children. If they are quality, like The Lion King and The Sound of Music, they will appeal to parents and other adults as well. National publicity about the falling crime rate and the new Times Square, the real estate boom, and appearances by Broadway casts on national television shows like The Rosie O'Donnell Show have created a synergy that has led to more tourists visiting New York and buying theatre tickets. It has also led to a new and exciting change in the public perception about Broadway. A year after Beauty and the Beast opened, a small "focus group" of parents were asked what Broadway show they would take their children to see. All of them said Cats. Five years later, a similar group of 12 parents were questioned. The answers ranged from Titanic to Cats to Beauty and the Beast to The Lion King to Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk. Nancy said this made her very "hopeful" that Broadway is now becoming a welcoming place in general for parents to bring their children.
Parents can, of course, be specifically targeted through advertising. As an example, those people who saw The Sound of Music as their first Broadway show are now the right age to have children who are ready for their first Broadway show. Nancy found in her research for the current production that everyone she spoke to who had been to their first Broadway show as a child had very vivid memories of the experience. A new television commercial shows a woman telling her little girl about her wonderful first experience going to a Broadway show, and promising her a similar experience at The Sound of Music. Parents who identify with this will take their children, and will then tell other parents who may not have been to a Broadway show as children that taking the family is an unforgettable experience and a worthwhile expense. Guilt, Nancy told us, is a great motivating factor for parents! The commercial was expensive to make, but was paid for by Hallmark Cards as a result of the Hallmark-Sound of Music sponsorship discussed in a previous Producer's Corner. Nancy pointed out that because the commercial has a very high level of recognition at this point, and has elicited a very strong emotional response, they can now run it less frequently and be choosier about where and when they will place it.
Parents who are at first put off by the high price of theatre tickets eventually find the investment is more than worthwhile. Even prior to her research for The Sound of Music, Nancy found that once parents commit to the expense of taking their families to the theatre, they want to take them more often. Parents find it very rewarding to see their children act out a show when they get home. They also notice that where a film or television show gives the children all the visual information they need to see a story unfold, watching a show on stage takes more imagination.
However, through many years of research used in developing her advertisements, Nancy has come to see that the traditional Broadway schedule is an even bigger obstacle to getting families into the theatre than ticket prices. By a margin of 65 to 1, parents would rather take a child to a show at 11:00 A.M. on a Saturday morning than 8:00 P.M. on a Tuesday night. Nancy's suggestion is for Broadway shows to perform more weekend shows, perhaps double casting certain roles to allow more performances every Saturday and Sunday. Both Radio City Music Hall, with their Christmas and Easter shows and live stage performances by well-known children's performers and characters; and Madison Square Garden with A Christmas Carol and The Wizard of Oz, have had enormous success taking that route. Nancy feels that Actors Equity, Local 1 (the stagehands union) and other unions would be open to this suggestion once they saw that ticket prices would become less of a deciding factor and a new family audience would boost ticket sales.
In the 1960s and 1970s, Nancy reminded us, parents for the most part stopped taking their children to the theatre. As a result, there is a whole generation, aged 21-35, who did not grow up going to the theatre and now do not take time from their careers to make theatre a part of their lives. A change in schedule that would be more accomodating to families would ensure a new generation of theatregoers, which we and the producers who will come after us need to start building now.
Bruce Lazarus the former Director of Business and Legal Affairs for Walt Disney Theatrical Productions and producer of the current off-Broadway show Shakespeare's "R&J."
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