Broadway steps up show-stopping ads

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The musical "Dracula" heralded its Broadway opening in August with a TV commercial featuring a still shot of a woman taken from the show's poster, along with background music and a voice-over.

The lackluster spot aimed to persuade crowds of theatergoers to shell out $100 for a theater ticket.

Just a month later, a new ad is ready, packed with glitzy footage of the best scenes from the show.

Why the change? Broadway producers got a big break on how much they pay actors in commercials when their contract with the Actors' Equity Association was recently ratified. That means that Broadway can finally afford to promote its shows in style.

The move stands to revolutionize the way theater is marketed. Executives are now envisioning major media campaigns with the kind of spots that movies have been using for years, full of action-packed scenes and celebrities.

Already, new commercials are on the way for "Mamma Mia!," "Phantom of the Opera" and "Hairspray."

"There's a big, big improvement on the horizon," says Nancy Coyne, chief executive of Broadway ad agency Serino Coyne, who spearheaded the change in policy during the contract negotiations. "Broadway is going to be able to function more like a movie studio from now on."

Under the old rule, producers paid every actor in footage taken for a commercial a $535 fee for every 13 weeks that the ad was aired. That sum covered only one type of medium, such as network TV. If the footage appeared on cable, the Internet, or any other medium, producers had to pony up additional cash.

Because of these expenses, many shows were greatly limited in the type and amount of advertising they could afford. A short-lived show from last season, "Never Gonna Dance," went to the expense of making a live-action commercial, but could air it only on cable-the cheapest option. One 13-week run of advertising cost $38,000 in talent payments. Putting the same spot on network TV would have added an extra $50,000 to the ad budget.

`best foot forward'

Even blockbuster "Cats" ended up relying on a commercial that featured the black cat-eye logo, because it couldn't make the talent payments every 13 weeks for its spots that used real actors.

"We're selling live theater, yet we're putting a dancing logo on TV," said Nina Lannan, now executive producer and general manager of "Mamma Mia!" "We haven't been able to put our best foot forward."

With the new contract, those feet will be on the march. Producers are thrilled to now pay just one annual talent fee to cover multiple media, including cable, network TV and the Internet. Serino Coyne estimates the new policy will save more than 70% in advertising costs. Actors agreed to the deal because the extra promotional power will help keep shows open longer, which is in their best interest.

Producers, who have relied on print as the centerpiece of their ad campaigns, are planning to shift the bulk of their budgets into cable and the Internet. They are readying a major onslaught of Broadway commercials that could even air in cinemas. An industry that generally advertises to a local New York audience, or in markets where its shows are touring, may go national in the future.

"The whole advertising world has gone to cable and the Internet, but we were locked out of that because of the cost," said Ginger Witt, director of business affairs at Serino Coyne. "Now we're going to explode into this area that will bring us to many people who may not have given a thought to seeing a show."

Miriam Kreinin Souccar is a reporter with Crain's New York Business

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