"There's a huge amount of pre-marketing to a Broadway
show. PR, publicity, community-building, advertising, marketing. You want to be 'A Hit' before you even hit Broadway," explains
Jeff Yang, President of Factor Inc.
Revivals of past hits have some of that buzz already built into
them. Unfortunately, Flower Drum Song could not take advantage of
that because originally in 1960 it was only a "moderate success."
Plus, as Yang explains, "It was progressive for its time, but
it was very White, very much a period piece. So, while it was
groundbreaking, it was also a little weird. Most people had
forgotten about it except as a quaint anachronism."
The show's producers saved the great Rogers & Hammerstein
music, but canned the lame story in favor of a 100% revised
version that both Whites and Asians could enjoy. Now they just
had to convince potential audiences of that, before the show
While no Broadway show can survive on minority ticket sales
alone, the producers definitely wanted to invest in targeting the
Data shows that while 3% of theatergoers in New York are Asian
American, for high-affinity productions such as Miss Saigon this
increased to more than 10%. So the producers decided to invest
10% of their overall $1.4 million marketing budget into targeting
Asian Americans, and see what happened.CAMPAIGN
"Asian Americans respond to viral marketing more than
any other kind of marketing," says Yang whose agency was chosen
to conduct the campaign.
"There isn't an Asian American I know who doesn't have a personal
email list of at least 80 to several thousand friends, contacts
and relatives. There's strong internal network in the
Although prototypical Broadway marketing is based on big
media spends, making the most of community-based viral buzz,
especially via the Internet and email, became the foundation of
Yang's team's five-step plan:
-> Step #1 - Launching online 5 months before the show
Realizing that a great site could be the touchstone for all other
marketing efforts, first the team put together a site that
- The hot pink and red colors that infused all show marketing
- Exclusive interviews with cast members
- Rehearsal (and later back-stage) snapshots
- Updates on cast member appearances at NY-area events
- Space for links to Asian American community groups Yang's
team hoped would endorse the show
Most critically, the site was easy to update, and Yang's team
built it with the express purpose of being able to update it and
drive traffic there repeatedly until people bought their tickets.
It was not the frozen-brochureware site so many entertainment
Naturally, the site offered an email newsletter. However,
surprisingly the email newsletter was text-only.
Yang explains, "We wanted people to grab it and forward it to all
their friends, and when you forward HTML from many email
systems, it becomes a garbled mess."
Plus, if you make your HTML email too pretty, what is the point of
going back to a site to view more? Yang felt if you are trying to
get someone to take action at your site, you have to use the
newsletter as a teaser only.
-> Step #2 - Initial buzz building at a big community event
Every May, more than 14,000 people attend the Asian Pacific
American Heritage Festival in Manhattan. This giant street fair
is the largest gathering of Asian Americans on the East Coast.
Yang says, "It's like Asian Woodstock."
It was the perfect place to start buzz-building for the show.
The team created and manned a five-person exhibit featuring the
history of Asians on Broadway. While the upcoming show was
mentioned, the team felt their booth would be more compelling if
it were educational and broad-focused rather than overtly
Plus, they had the killer app: A hot pink t-shirt emblazoned on
the front with the title of Flower Drum Song's most famous song,
"I enjoy being a girl."
"It was the coolest t-shirt," says Yang. "We sold them for
really cheap, and held a drawing every half hour to give away a
couple. Also, if we saw any pretty Asian celebrities, we give
them shirts on condition that they wear them."
"Everybody was wearing these things, all these attractive young
women, and a few gay men. You'd see this and wonder, 'what is
it?' and then see the Flower Drum Song logo on the back. So, a
lot of people came to our booth and signed up for our
(Link to photo of t-shirts below.)
-> Step #3 - "Leadership Lunches" targeting top influencers
Next, in early July the team held a series of three Leadership
Lunches for influential Asian-Americans in the Manhattan area.
Invited guests included journalists, business leaders, political
leaders and the leaders of Asian American membership
organizations such as the head of the New York Chinese Cultural
Center. "We picked organizations that had a minimum of 300
members on their mailing lists," noted Yang.
Each of the lunches was held at a carefully-chosen pan-Asian
restaurant. One was for Chinese-Americans, one for Filipinos and
one for the general pan-Asian community. Yang's team invited 50
leaders to each and about 30 showed. He notes everyone who
did not show was out of town that week or stuck in a meeting they
could not get out of.
The draw was the chance to meet the stars of the show in person
(female lead Lea Salonga, in particular, is very famous in the
During the hour and a half-long lunch, attendees viewed
presentations "about why the new production was important to our
community, why it would be something wonderful." Then each
attendee was asked to become a Friend of Flower Drum Song.
Yang explains, "They weren't just primed to see the show
themselves, but to evangelize it to the community."
How exactly? Read on.
-> Step #4 - Tying ticket sales to community fundraising
Yang's team got the show's producers to agree to let them offer
$95 tickets for five "Community Preview Nights" for just $65 to
Asian American non-profit membership organizations.
To qualify, each organization had to agree to buy a block of at
least 50 tickets at the special price, but they could sell them
for any price they wanted. Many did, using the extra funds
generated to help their organizations.
The cast of Flower Drum Song pitched in to help as well, agreeing
to drop in as celebrity guests at special post-show parties being
held for Community ticket holders on those five nights.
For groups that had email member lists, Yang's team provided an
eVite-powered viral marketing campaign to help them sell tickets
by sending emails that linked to online ticket order forms.
For groups that just had snail mail lists, Yang's team provided
graphics templates for flyers and postcard mailers they could
insert their info into easily prior to mailing.
"We sent them an EPS, all they had to do was pop in their
organization's name and print it out and photocopy it. We're not
talking high-end collateral here," notes Yang. "The main thing
was to get the invite into the hands of members." (Link to
sample creative below.)
Every participating group was added to the show's Web site so
surfers could pick the group of their choice to buy a ticket
through. The site began to help the Asian American community
fundraise for itself.
The five Community nights took place during the preview
performances of the show. Then the show formally launched in New
York and the critics weighed in.
-> Step 5: Keep the show alive through the winter
Although the show was nominated for three Tony awards, some
critics panned it because they were upset by the fact that the
original story line had been replaced.
Yang says dryly, "Older critics did not respond well to
revisionist Rogers & Hammerstein."
Now the team had a new goal: Keep the show alive long enough to
prove it's worth taking on the road and performing in more cities
Starting in early January, traditionally the worst ticket
sales time for even hit shows, Yang's team began promoting a
series of "Community Celebration Nights."
While his mainstream marketing counterparts had spent their media
buying budgets in a frenzy to push awareness when the show first
opened in the fall, Yang had held the majority of his budget in
reserve for these harder times.
Now he loosened the purse-strings, running targeted campaigns in
every Asian American media outlet he could find, as well as
offers to the show's email newsletter readers.
"We ran broadcast and print ads saying 'We're celebrating the
lunar New Year on Thursday and Friday nights throughout January
and February.' All they had to do was use the coupon code to get
a premium seat for $65."
"We needed to keep the show alive long enough that it would not
be considered a total flop."
Flower Drum Song lasted until mid-March, and road show plans are actively underway for several cities including Dallas
and San Francisco. A stunning 30% of Broadway tickets sold were
to Asian Americans.
- 15 groups participated in the Community Preview nights,
representing advance group sales of more than 1,800 seats and
more than $180,000 in proceeds to charity.
- More than 3,000 consumers joined the show's newsletter list,
most having learned about it virally from friends.
- The cast reported that the Community Preview and Community
Celebration nights were their favorites because the audiences
were so warmly appreciative. Especially near the end of the run,
these nights helped boost cast morale and keep their energy
Yang's advice for other marketers targeting the Asian American
demographic, "People tend to think of special markets as luxuries
like a cherry on your shortcake. That's silly. You have to
ignore color and race and last name."
Instead he recommends classic database-marketing tactics, "If 30%
of group X are responding and group Y are responding at a rate of
4%, where are you going to put your money? Group X. If you
assume you should put more money into mainstream marketing
because the mainstream is bigger, it may be a mistake. It's no
use being bigger if they're not listening and not responding."
"Don't underestimate the power of a clearly defined and properly
primed special market."
Here is a link to samples of creative online & off:
Yang's agency, Factor Inc: http://www.factorinc.com
Firm that built the show site http://www.situationmarketing.com