#TBT: Learn Three Marketing Strategies of Modern Circuses

Photo credit: Cirque du Soliel/Matt Beard

Photo Credit: Cirque du Soleil/Matt Beard

Happy #TBT. To celebrate, we’re sharing an oldie-but-goodie post from Jim

Learn Three Marketing Strategies of Modern Circuses

There’s a whole new breed of circuses these days, and in not a single one is anybody sticking his head in a lion’s mouth.

It’s an extremely healthy subgenre that’s strong and growing. Obviously, the leader of the pack is Cirque du Soleil, but they’re no longer alone. There’s also: Spiegelworld, Teatro ZinZanni, Lucha VaVOOM, Cirque Berzerk and Cirque Shanghai, among others.

In short, if you’re in the live entertainment business (and perhaps especially the concert business), you’d better be paying attention to this because it’s telling us a lot about today’s eventgoers.

In fact, I’m going to share with you now (after several years of working with these kinds of shows at Goldstar and seeing exactly how people react to them) what I believe are three strategies that any live entertainment producer can use based on the success of modern circuses.

1. Think Visual. The most salient feature of a circus is that it’s designed to be looked at. It doesn’t have to be garish or overly loud (although it’s often both, and, on the other hand, circuses can be quite tasteful and beautiful). But the visual should be part of your thought process in designing and developing the show.

And just because you’ve created a set doesn’t mean you’re thinking about the visual part of the show. Most of the time, theaters put some thought into the set, but what they’re really thinking is how they can create a set that allows them to deliver the words and action. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about designing a visual user experience.

Even concerts should be doing this. Every concert should have a visual component because most people aren’t audiophiles and simply can’t (or don’t) appreciate the improvement that live sound has over recording. And I’m not talking about pointless spectacle. Again, I’m talking about thinking of the audience and how their experience would be enhanced by switching on another one of their five senses.

2. Create unpredictability. The circuses are good at creating a feeling that just about anything could happen while you’re watching. There’s fire, there’s falling from great heights, there are dangerous objects being thrown.

It creates a lot of audience intrigue to believe that there’s just the right element of chance and mayhem in a show, and that as an audience member, you might be in for some surprises during the show.

Have you ever been at a music concert when halfway through the show an unexpected musical celebrity guest walks out from behind the stage? The effect is electric, and a big part of it is the surprise.

Audiences want the right mix of predictable and novel. Most venues err on the side of predictable. Not circuses.

3. Give the audience permission to be a little naughty. You’ll notice a common thread among all the circuses out there, even Cirque du Soleil, in that they all have a mischievous spirit that borders on the naughty. (In fact, shows like Cirque Berzerk or Lucha VaVOOM go right over that border, but not so far as to be gross about it.)

Again, this is a question of “just enough.” Everybody likes to feel like they’re bending the normal rules, but only a little. It’s like Halloween or Mardi Gras in that people like disappearing into a different persona sometimes, and if your show allows them to feel like they’re doing that, they’ll appreciate it.

But if you go too far, they’re not going to feel safe about their experience. Lucha VaVOOM is less naughty than they’d have you believe because the truth is the crowd doesn’t want a hardcore nude show. They want to be at a show that’s genuinely entertaining but also just outrageous enough to make the experience special.

Rock ‘n’ roll concerts used to have that power. I was just a little kid when he died, but supposedly Jim Morrison was a one-man circus and people went to see the Doors not just because they loved the music but to see what Morrison might do on stage.

A couple years ago, the LA Opera did a production of a Wagner opera called Tannhauser, about a poet in love with the goddess Venus. Here’s the event art they created for the show (to the left): 

It was attention-getting, and the production of the show followed through on the slightly naughty promise the poster made.

Mind you, you’re still at a world-class opera house listening to Wagner. It’s a combination that had a lot of appeal, but it wasn’t about nudity on stage. It was about giving the audience permission to bend the normal rules of their lives just a bit while still enjoying a great night of entertainment.

Got a comment or question? Join the conversation on Twitter or Facebook.


Sign Up for Emails