What Does “Get ‘Em When They’re Young” Mean for Live Entertainment?

"Kid's Zone Audience," © 2009  Rob Guettler, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Kids are a great, underserved audience. “Kid’s Zone Audience,” © 2009 Rob Guettler, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.

Get a child hooked on your product when he’s 10, and he’s yours for life. A lot of marketers believe that as gospel, and from time to time evidence emerges that “proves” it.

I’ve always been less convinced. Preference is highly perishable, and most of the “brands” I liked as a kid aren’t particularly relevant to me now. I mean, I still like Count Chocula in theory, but I don’t exactly eat much of it.

And when you look at the world’s most valuable or beloved brands, it’s not the names you’d find in a toy box or school backpack. For example, in Forbes most recent version of this, only two of the top 10 brands (Coca-Cola and McDonald’s) could lay claim to having a link to our childhood, really. Few children get hooked on Louis Vuitton’s wares early and just keep suiting up from there. The first truly primarily childhood-driven brand, Disney, comes in at No. 17.

If I do think about the brands I use now that I did when I was a kid, they’re mere staples: Crest toothpaste, Listerine mouthwash, Hellmann’s mayo, that kind of thing. Primarily, those decisions stick because I don’t really care all that much. In those parts of my life as a consumer, all that a brand can do is go wrong: toothpaste that tastes like chocolate cake or has little rocks in it; mouthwash that makes my tongue purple.

Live entertainment isn’t the same. Every event has to prove itself all over again, mostly. The sports genre of live entertainment may have an advantage here because team loyalties can last a lifetime, and a sentimental attachment to going to a sports facility can be very powerful in a way that most other live entertainment venues do not manage. The recent 100th anniversary of Wrigley Field in Chicago, for example, illustrates this.

But theaters and opera houses and concert halls — and even most sports arenas — tend to get less of this kind of sentimentality for some reason.

So what’s to be done? Should a live entertainment/arts organization bother trying to “get ‘em young?”

Yes, but for two reasons, and a third pseudo-reason.

First, you should try to get young attendees because they’re a great, underserved audience. Take it from a guy who sells a lot of tickets to a lot of different kinds of things in a lot of different places: There are NOT ENOUGH GOOD SHOWS FOR CHILDREN. That means that if you’re even sort of good, you can do very well. As an audience today, kids are a goldmine that a lot of people just don’t want to reach because, well, I’m not sure why. Kids should be taken seriously as an audience. They don’t go to “crap” because they like crap. It’s because adults, rather condescendingly, serve them up crap. Remember: Seven-year-olds started tearing through 1,000 page books when someone (JK Rowling) started writing for them. Books and movies have figured this out, but not live entertainment. Why is that? Please tell me it’s not because our industry feels it’s too “good” for them.

Second, you should want those young people there because they bring older people with them. This strange tribe of moneyed drones are known as “parents,” “grandparents,” “uncles,” “aunts” and “other adults.” It turns out these are people who might just be susceptible to developing a strong penchant for coming to your shows for grown-ups. A goldmine hiding inside a hidden goldmine.

Third, if you get these kids into your show today and dazzle them, they’ll go … somewhere when they’re grown-ups. I’ll be honest with you, it probably won’t be your venue, but then you probably won’t be working there in 20 years anyway. But I promise, if they start going to things instead of sitting at home watching TV or playing Candy Crush, they’ll be out there …

Your future colleagues thank you!

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  • Ruth Pangilinan says:

    I do believe that we should ‘get them you’ – I do what I do because of a production of Fiddler on the Roof that I saw in Chicago when I was 5 or 6. On that note, no matter what age we get that first time experience, it better be a good experience from the beginning, meaning that we better do our job the best we can do before the audience sits in their seats and leave the production up to the directors, actors and crew. I have seen one too many instances where the first experience at a live performance is pain in the ass because buying a ticket or getting to a seat is simply a mess for everyone involved. And if it was my first time, it might keep me from coming again 😉

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