Advertising in the Footlights


Rising Interest in Theater Sponsorships and Product Placements

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NEW YORK ( -- American marketers are starting to view the theaters of the Great White Way as a fertile new venue for the
The critically acclaimed 'Wicked' cost $14 million to produce. Such high costs are making broadway theater owners more open to lucrative marketing deals. 'Wicked' is sponsored by Universal.
aggressive mixing of entertainment and advertising.

Corporate sponsorship of Broadway shows is nothing groundbreaking, but theater naming rights, in-theater advertising, product placement and product integration are clearly areas of growing marketer interest and activity.

Critic disagrees
Not everyone agrees with this trend. For instance Newsday theater critic Linda Winer makes no bones about her objections. "I detest the naming of theaters and turning them into billboards for airlines and auto companies... It so debases the street."

Nevertheless, Manhattan's 42nd Street -- the central artery of the world-famed theater district -- exerts a strong allure on marketing companies that need to get their message in front of ever more elusive consumers.

'Huge untapped platform'
"Broadway is a huge untapped entertainment platform," said Jan Svendsen, a former Ogilvy & Mather executive who now markets the League of American Theatres & Producers, an organization that helps Broadway market itself. Ms. Svendsen is the group's director of marketing, communications and development. "There will be more opportunities in the future. Product placement is not being leveraged," she said.

Broadway is attracting more money

Visa USA says its sponsorship of 'Movin' Out,' a theater production based on Billy Joel songs, has been 'very successful.'
Visa TV ads promote the play, which went on national tour last month.
from advertisers for several reasons. For one, they're reaching an audience that's well off. Serino Coyne, one of the dominant ad agencies along Broadway -- itself snapped up by holding advertising company Omnicom Group a year ago -- claims that 33% of Broadway goers earn more than $150,000. That's no surprise, considering that orchestra seats often run $100 or more, but the agency says that's a good value for sponsors, because shows such as Wicked, backed by Universal, cost upward of $14 million to produce.

Women, out-of-towners
Broadway is also an efficient way to target women, who make up 64% of the audience, according to Serino Coyne. And it's not strictly local: Nearly half, 49%, of the Broadway audience comes from U.S. cities outside of New York.

Visa USA has found that its sponsorship of Billy Joel's national tour of Movin' Out has helped it reach a wider audience. The credit card giant is helping build a national audience for the show behind a TV commercial from Omnicom's BBDO Worldwide, New York. The commercial is the first to support a touring Broadway production since Visa's sponsorship of A Chorus Line in 1992.

'Big and exciting'
George Perry, director for event and sponsorship marketing at Visa USA, said the credit card marketer was looking for a showcase sponsorship. "How do we say this is big and exciting? One way was to attract not only theater goers but a whole new group of people, Billy Joel fans." The national tour began Jan. 27 at Detroit's Fisher Theater.

Some marketers are already working with shows to get their wares on the stage. According to Ms. Svendsen, Sketchers supplied sneakers to the cast of Footloose.

Naming rights
Moreover, a number of theaters have followed sports arenas in selling naming rights: American Airlines Theater, Cadillac Winter Garden and Ford Center for the Performing Arts among them. Currently, Serino Coyne is currently looking to replace Mercedes-Benz as a name sponsor of New York's Minskoff Theater.

The agency also said theaters are looking for sponsors for the "Please Turn Off Your Cellphone" messsage.

Of the three companies that dominate Broadway -- the Nederlander Organization, Schubert Theaters and Jujamcyn Theater -- Nederlander is said to be the most interested in seeking out new ways of working with marketers, according to the League, which is also supported by IBM Corp., Continental Airlines, Visa and Macy's. The League is also in charge of marketing the annual Tony Awards, which are being reorganized to help attract a younger audience when the awards are handed out in June.

'Playbill' competition
There is some resistance to the threat to Broadway kingpin Playbill's argument that it should remain the only ad-supported vehicle in theater. In some cases, logos on cocktail napkins are a no-go area, according to Playbill.

Phil Birsh, publisher of the theater handout that has a circulation of 1.4 million per month, said he hears complaints from advertisers that Broadway audiences aren't big enough and that the time and effort involved isn't worthwhile when compared to other mediums. Moreover, each show faces competition from anywhere from 27 to 30 productions every night and Mr. Birsh said product-placement deals are tough, given that the audience can't see in detail what's happening on stage.

"Theater owners don't want to be turned into casinos," he said.

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