Entertainment Marketers 2008

Entertainment Marketers 2008: Mario D'Amico

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Launching Cirque du Soleil's Beatles-themed "Love" show at the Mirage hotel-casino in Las Vegas was a riskier stunt than met the eye.

For the first time in its 23-year history, Cirque was using borrowed material instead of one of its own wildly imagined story lines. It was packaging a loose tour of the Fab Four's career based on 130 songs from the Beatles' master tapes into a 90-minute theatrical extravaganza for the Vegas Strip, in the very hotel whose last show, Siegfried & Roy, had ended in tragedy a few years earlier.
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Photo: Richard Termine
  • Rich-media advertising snares worldwide audience
  • Giant hotel banners as can be done only in Vegas
  • Interviews with Paul, Ringo, Yoko, Olivia -- and Cirque's Guy Laliberte

But Mario D'Amico, Cirque's senior VP-marketing, knew that the show -- which took four years to develop in deep collaboration with the Beatles' label, Apple Corps Ltd. -- would melt audiences' hearts. Spectators would soak up songs and dialogue from Beatles recording sessions, as interpreted by a cast of 60, through 6,000 speakers.

Since "Love" opened in June 2006, 1.5 million spectators have paid an average of $100 per ticket to bask in this experience. Second only to Cirque's long-running "O" show at the Bellagio, "Love" boasts a 90% average sellout rate, and Cirque expects its run at the Mirage to last for a decade.

Leading a marketing team of a dozen people, Mr. D'Amico generated a combination of celebrity-spiked buzz and local and internet marketing to turn "Love" into one of Cirque's biggest blockbusters.

Drawing curious fans
"Putting 'Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds' together with our acrobats and theater was an industry first. What we also managed to do with marketing was to create enough curiosity that Beatles fans new to the Cirque brand also found us," says Mr. D'Amico, who joined Cirque du Soleil in 1999 from director of Publicis/BCP, Montreal.

First, Cirque hosted a massively publicized and photographed blowout party in Las Vegas for about 4,000 people, including the remaining members of the Beatles and contemporaries such as Eric Clapton, creating an international stir.

A year later, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr reunited with Yoko Ono and Olivia Harrison, the widows of John Lennon and George Harrison, and Cirque founder Guy Laliberté at the Mirage on "Larry King Live" to celebrate the success of "Love" in a wide-ranging interview.

The Mirage hotel was wrapped in a huge "Love" graphic ad covering the 30-story building for nearly a year. Cirque's tested strategy of heavy local TV, radio and print advertising in Las Vegas, plus rich-media-stoked internet advertising beamed around the world, fueled strong ticket sales from the outset. "Rich media on the internet is the most powerful tool for promoting our shows because it gives people a glimpse of the show's sights and sounds," Mr. D'Amico says.

Cirque's agency of record is Sid Lee Collective, Montreal. Media buying is handled on a project basis by local shops.

Marketing independently
Last June, Cirque blitzed local media and the internet with a "Summer of Cirque" promotion centered on "Love," touting the 40-year anniversary of the "Summer of Love" in 1967. The promotion, encompassing Cirque's other permanent and touring shows, helped boost ticket sales by some 30%.

"Love" got little help from the five other MGM-owned hotels where Cirque shows are concurrently playing.

"Each of our shows is marketed independently, as if they were not part of a bigger partnership," Mr. D'Amico says. "We find it keeps everyone on their toes, to compete to get the most visitors into seats."
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