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Bad Form: Cirque Marketing Dept. slips on its own banana

October 30, 2009 By: Nick Keenan Category: Uncategorized

This morning, several Chicago theater bloggers received a robotic love note from the representatives of Cirque du Soleil, who are opening a show in town that I’m only going to wryly allude to. Because I’m insulted.

Chloe Steve (great use of two first names!) writes in my comments:

Its a great idea.I also take immense joy in sharing with you that Cirque du soleil is in Chicago now………It should be great……..

As actual journalist™ Kris Vire gumshoed a few minutes later after HE got a similar comment on his blog, Chloe appears to be a hired hand posting from India.

Now, I would LOVE to have an actual conversation with Chloe “If that is your real name” Steve about Cirque and the intersection of Chicago and south asian theater. That would be cool, and there’s actually an annual precedent for such a conversation.

And indeed my beef is not with the hired hands. It’s with the promoter, and it’s with folks who would look at their numbers and judge the success of their marketing efforts based on butts in seats and nothing else. What encourages me about the emerging style of DIY arts marketing emerging in Chicago, Vancouver, Austin, and now most notably Baltimore is that it is based on real connection and rich conversation instead of mechanical SEO mumbo-jumbo. It is becoming the art and science of nurturing long-term relationships with your audience instead of cynically treating tickets purchased like a widget that you manufacture.

This is a letter of encouragement I sent to one of my web clients yesterday as they launched their website and thus their marketing campaign for a product they’re selling:

Keyword choices should more or less be happening in your copy, which google pays much more attention to than in your meta keywords. Your copy is already rich in keywords like *blonk*, *sploit*, *aWOOOGA!*, etc. So that’s a good start!

The most effective method of increasing SEO for your site that we’ve found at Marshall Creative will be more challenging for you as a developer of state of the art products – the biggest weight that google gives to a site is when trusted sites link or refer to content on your site. This can be achieved by 1) identifying what the trusted online neighborhoods in your industry are and 2) engaging those neighborhoods in content-rich dialogue as a part of your day-to-day marketing behavior. The more you can engage other blogs as a commenter (or even in some cases twittering thought leaders in your industry), or media outlets as an expert, the more likely those sites will choose to feature content links to your site. As you accrue those connections: Bam. Your site results surge forward in all your major keywords. This isn’t a question of just getting people to link to you in your sidebar – you want the right people TALKING about you online.

And sometimes in other odd keywords, as well. It’s not an exact science – at times it can be like drinking from an intermittent firehose. Thanks to this post on my personal blog, I have somehow become very high in google’s results for hog butchering. Luckily, I also have pretty good results in things I ACTUALLY do as well.

See that? Marketing theater is about talking about MORE THAN THEATER, and saying more than just “Chicago theater is awesome. This show is awesome.” In what specific ways is it awesome? For crying out loud, this is DYING for some creativity here. It’s about connecting the dots from the show to the subject, or the creators, or the sheer weight of the craft that goes in to Cirque’s production of [name omitted]. Think about the genius of Redmoon’s Golden Truffle. It’s a show… and a truffle tasting. And they’re truly integrated experiences. Nothing feels awkward or forced about it, and bam: You have brought an entirely new market segment into your theater. Cirque is better than this.

The really sad thing is that before this, I had a really great story pitch that I could offer to Cirque. You see, Cirque (along with the Mouse) was one of the forces that developed LCS (Level Control Systems), the top-of-the-line sound control system that we use at the Goodman. If qLab is the efficient and affordable Prius of sound control, LCS is the crazy expensive but completely configurable James Bond-mobile, and it’s quite useful with complex sound systems used by, well, Cirque, the Mouse, the Goodman, and several Broadway in Chicago shows (duh nuh nuh nuh! snap snap). The story of LCS, (now renamed D-Mitri after being aquired by top-of-the-line audio manufacturer Meyer Sound) is almost as incredible as what it is capable of, but you won’t hear that story, or the story of mad genius sound designer Jonathan Deans or any of his brilliant apprentices, because instead we get “Chicago theater is great! Including Cirque.”

Dissapointing, isn’t it? If the marketing of a show with a budget this large is this disappointing, well then I’m sure the show will be too.

And to all those who got spammed by cirque: Boycott. Boycott. Boycott. Don’t review, Don’t Go. Until the marketing department changes their ways.

(photo by NitaKang)

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7 Comments to “Bad Form: Cirque Marketing Dept. slips on its own banana”

  1. I agree with this post 100%. Also, it is with gladness in my heart that I am making you to know that the new Cirque show BANANA SHPEEL will be of the highest magnitude!

  2. (Hm. Realized a second too late that my sarcastic mockery of the campaign tactic likely translates in terms of web traffic as a validation. Sorry about that.)

  3. You know what I just realized? I think this scenario has finally allowed me to think outside of the box that the tension between big box promoters and storefront theater is about the PLAYERS. It’s not. It’s about the BEHAVIOR. Promoters who import acts into town like this are capable of promoting them in a way that encourages long-term engagement with the audience – and if they would do that, I think you’d see a lot more residual benefit in the local scene as people became more engaged in interacting with their own entertainment.

    It’s when the promoters choose to shortcut and NOT do that or choose to remain ignorant of better behavior that it becomes a problem. That said, there are plenty of small theaters with awful marketing etiquette as well – though their ignorance is not nearly as loud without dough to back it.

    The common goal here should be improving the way we talk to the audience – encouraging them by example instead of by empty words and comments just how worthwhile it is to make live performance a part of your life.

  4. Oh, and look! If you’re reading this and fear making the same mistake as Cirque, read this interview & book to get back on track:

    (@rebeccacoleman is a friend of mine, but no, she didn’t pay me to say that. She’s just good and knows what she’s talking about)

  5. Gary Vaynerchuk has said a lot of smart things about the necessity of authenticity in new-media marketing. Some of his basic points are here, and completely relate to the CdS campaign:

    On a broader level, I’m kind of fascinated with all of the cultural and theatrical issues that come into play when a physical theater company moves into the realm of language and jokes. Jeune Lune in Minneapolis reached a middle ground between French humor and Minnesota humor, though the verbal jokes weren’t as seamless as the physical ones. Montreal, where Cirque originates, has had two separate scenes for comic theater: British music-hall/sketch-inspired comedy on the Anglophone side, and joual (slang)-heavy local comedy on the Francophone side. I’m curious to see how they make the leap into vaudville. As you say, I hope it’s with a surer foot than their marketing campaign.

  6. They’re not even being particularly bright about this. I blog about dining and entertainment for Dining Chicago. Instead of picking one of the theater posts to put their spam on, they put it in the comments of a post about cookbooks — twice!

    I asked the local publicist about it, and she had no idea what was happening. (But she apologized anyway.) It’s really a shame that they’re undermining her efforts this way.

  7. Thanks for the update, Leah. It looks like Bob has been getting the same info from the publicist as well. It’s just a little reassuring to know that it seems to be a rogue vendor of some kind who has been hired to do the work rather than the publicists themselves – and that it is clearly a mistaken strategy – but someone did the hiring of whatever firm is doing this at some point, and that requires a certain level of due diligence.

    It occurs to me that the boycott language may seem harsh and impulsive in that context. What I mean by it is: if this is your contact with the show as a blogger, don’t see it, and don’t encourage them. I’m sure with it being Cirque that it’s unreasonable for media outlets to not cover this, so I can’t reasonably ask that, but I hope this is at the least a vote for more in-depth coverage rather than ad nauseum xeroxing of press releases. If there’s *additional* contact with the show that is positive – such as the work that I know the local publicist is now running around doing putting out this fire, that’s a different story.

    I think that the behavior and culture of the SEOers and Social Marketing gurus that sell this kind of snake oil service is seriously flawed and needs to be met with some resistance and positive reinforcement in the other direction. As Rebecca Coleman says, we’re not advancing into a computer-generated auto-marketing era, we’re actually reverting back here to the days the door-to-door salesman, and that means more handshaking, more customized tailoring of the pitch to individual needs. This is a GOOD thing, and yes, it’s more work, which may seem in the short term like smaller profit margins – but that doesn’t equate to less return on the investment of developing richer relationships with the audience.


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  1. REVIEW: Cirque du Soleil’s “Banana Shpeel” « Chicago Theater Blog 05 12 09

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