"Everyone's a little bit racist," according to an "Avenue Q" song, and loads of people also have some "puppet bias," says Jeffrey Seller, one of the hit Broadway show's producers.
The "most diehard theatergoers that lift a show off the ground ... were not buying tickets," says Mr. Seller. The producers, including Kevin McCollum and Robyn Goodman, decided to go after a "hip, young audience" of trendsetters. Traditional Broadway producers aren't "as dedicated in bringing in younger people," says Ms. Goodman. They gave free tickets to editors and other influential tastemakers and put the show's quirky humor to work in radio ads. They sent the actors out to perform songs to morning talk shows and other TV programs to increase the public's understanding of the "sensibility of the show," she says. "When we decided to use our sense of humor, [we discovered] that was the best way to market the show."
Then things started to take off.
"Word got out, and it built into a show that was selling 80%" of the seats, says Mr. Seller, 40. In 35 weeks the show recouped its capitalization, but Mr. Seller says, "we were scratching our heads saying how are we going to close the gap?" and sell out every performance. They decided to chase Tony.
In a move that was more Hollywood than Broadway, the producers "geared our entire marketing campaign to the 750 Tony voters," says Mr. Seller. "It was generally conceded that `Wicked' [an Entertainment Marketer of the Year winner last year] would win." He says the Tony voters "tend to reward shows for their success" so they launched a publicity blitz for "Avenue Q" built around a humorous marketing effort that spoofed the heated presidential campaign. It also held a lunch, featuring parodies of songs from other Broadway shows, for Tony voters who were in town and mailed a CD of the lunch songs to all of the voters.
"We were taking full-page ads [created by SpotCo] for $100,000 in The New York Times to appeal to 750 people," says Mr. Seller.
The show won three 2004 Tony awards including Best Musical. The gap was closed.
Next up? Instead of a touring company, a second "Avenue Q" will open this September at the Wynn Las Vegas casino.