The first article in my morning e-blast from Thomas Cott of You’ve Cott Mail fame was a think piece in the Huffington Post that could generate much heat. It could also generate a lot of “Yeah, but” chatter in the blogosphere.
James Sims, who appears to wear more hats in the live-theater industry than a bald haberdasher, wrote the article, which is called “Music Videos Can Save Broadway.” It’s a great headline if you believe that Broadway, as a brand, is currently laid out on a stretcher, a glum candidate for the morgue full of IVs, catheters and needles stuck in arms while a respirator pumps it full of oxygen. I’m not sure the Broadway League would agree with this assessment, given that total box-office last year set new records. How Broadway is marketed, however, is important to study, for the demographics of the Broadway audience remain overwhelmingly white and isn’t getting any younger.
Given the meat of Sims’ piece, perhaps a more precise headline might have been: “Music Videos Can Revolutionize the Marketing of Broadway.” Granted, not as sexy, but not as melodramatic as the final third of Act 2 of Evita, either.
Sims makes the point that Broadway melodies used “to play on radio stations across the country…people around the country wanted to hear it.” Indeed, so-called theater music — traditional theater tunes in the Rodgers-Hammerstein-Sondheim tradition — is so far out of the mainstream of contemporary pop music that calling it a niche market is being generous. Sims also makes the point that sometimes a musical comes along that relies upon what we might classify as nontraditional theater music to serve as its narrative engine. Spring Awakening and Next to Normal are two examples; the upcoming Green Day-written American Idiot is a third.
So, Sims asks simply, why aren’t music videos being used as marketing tools?
Sony Music Entertainment and Universal Music Group joined forces late last year with Abu Dhabi Media to launch the online music video site Vevo.com, a site offering official music videos without all of the white noise usually associated with YouTube. The site had more than 35 million users logging on within its first month, according to comScore. Yahoo hosts music videos, as do sites including MTV.com, AOL.com and Facebook.Broadway marketing agencies need to take advantage of this growing new media audience and start pushing music in their direction. A step in the right direction would be to produce glossy music videos that can bridge the gap between music fans and Broadway aficionados. Diverting funds usually set aside for a full-page color ad in The New York Times Sunday section to new media campaigns, like music videos, is the future of Broadway marketing. Between 2008 and 2009, the Times saw its Sunday electronic edition go from 6,385 to 34,435 views, while the print edition lost nearly 22,000 home delivery readers.
Here, Sims makes another good point: As the disastrously short-lived Broadway revival of Brighton Beach Memoirs made clear, print ads are increasingly not worth the paper they’re soon to be no longer printed on. If a $100,000 ad buy in the New York Times ever generated $100,000 worth of sales, it probably doesn’t do so anymore. I’m curious as to what metrics exist that quantifies return on investment for old-media-style marketing strategies for theater.
Sims uses the example of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Love Never Dies, the sequel to The Phantom of the Opera, which is running in London and expected to transfer to Broadway later this year. “Rather than slapping together production video clips and packaging it as a TV spot,” he observes, “the creative team…produced an MTV-style music video.”
Green Day released a new music video featuring the song “21 Guns,” a track from American Idiot. The band joins the Broadway cast throughout the video, further solidifying the link between Green Day’s music and the theatrical production.
If memory serves, Spring Awakening took advantage of YouTube with a similar idea (now at 346,000 views):
As traditional marketing methods prove incapable of creating enough buzz to sell out a new Broadway musical, now is the time for producers and marketing executives to get creative….
Now, I would argue that some traditional marketing — harness the power of word of mouth, for example — does create enough buzz to keep selling out Broadway musicals. One need only look at the million-plus followers of Next to Normal on Twitter to understand that the idea is more about reconfiguring traditional marketing ideas for a new atmosphere — in this case, as part of a comprehensive social-media strategy.
I would further argue that creating a video isn’t enough. The promotion of that video must be part of a comprehensive, multi-pronged strategy that targets and, wherever appropriate, saturates the balkanized marketplace of culture with multiple interactions with the brand. I don’t think music videos alone can “save” Broadway. As part of rethinking total marketing, however, Broadway could use a spruce-up — and maybe address long-term demographic challenges in the process.