Truth in Advertising: The Emotional Promise | Drew Hodges | TEDxBroadway


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When it comes to marketing a product, or in Drew Hodges’ case, a Broadway show, there are many different approaches you could take. But one way that’s worked for shows like “Hamilton,” “Rent” and “Chicago” is to capture the emotional angle: how it feels to see the show. Hodges explains that if you can make a promise with your advertising that is the same promise the show delivers on night after night, word of mouth soars. Hodges shares how to find that perfect promise for anything you’re advertising, and how to avoid the dreaded “non-event” advertising that kills word of mouth. Drew Hodges is founder of Spot Design (1987), SpotCo (1997) and most recently DrewDesignCo (2016). Along with a team of 228 collaborators over the last 20 years, Hodges has helped sell over 30 million tickets to live entertainment, and created the branding and advertising campaigns for three decades of theatrical shows and art institutions including nine Pulitzer Prize winners. He is proud to have helped launch many culturally iconic titles, including Rent, Chicago, Doubt, The Color Purple, Avenue Q, Kinky Boots and Hamilton, among others. DrewDesignCo is Hodges’s new firm, devoted to branding and design for entertainment and culture. Recent theatrical collaborations include Sweeney Todd, Sweat (winner of the 2017 Pulitzer prize), Mean Girls, Moulin Rouge, Fiddler on the Roof (Yiddish), The Perelman Performing Arts Center at The World Trade Center and Tootsie, where he is making his debut as a Producer. This talk was given at a TEDx event using the TED conference format but independently organized by a local community. Learn more at <br> <h3>Auto Generated Captions</h3>

remember High School in 1977 every
Monday morning I would go to my high
school library I would open up the New
York Times to look for ads for concerts
in their full-page glory
I would then gather up my friends to
save the date we would buy blocks of
tickets check the train schedule and
head to New York City these ads held for
me what I like to haul call an emotional
promise they held the potential for huge
excitement a communal event get them
while they’re hot tickets and across the
joy of the big city in a year or two
later plays and musicals began to speak
to me in the same way I remember this
one great fall of ain’t misbehavin Joe
egg and Sweeney Todd all original casts
these ads told me what was special about
these shows by their size by their
placement by their style by their
emotional promise in 1996 after a decade
of working on entertainment graphic
design for clients like swatch watts and
MTV Geffen Records rang me and asked me
to go see a new show called rent I
remember standing on line to get my
tickets at New York Theatre Workshop
right behind playwright Wendy
Wasserstein and when she got her tickets
she turned to me and fan them with gleam
in her eye like Charlie and Willy Wonka
and we both knew something special was
happening and my life was about to
change when we began work on the rent
logo I didn’t know it but I was working
from a series of personal hunches I was
marketing to myself and you can do that
almost instinctively but in the
beginning of rent there were many people
who wanted to sell rent to a rock and
roll fan I had a hunch that this fan was
already well served by the New York City
music scene and rock and roll tickets
cost way less than Broadway tickets
so I said to the producers hey let’s not
sell rent to the rock and roll fan
because that’s not what rent is rents a
true Broadway musical and we should sell
it to the people who already like those
I implored them that there were more
people like me out there people who had
seen musicals when they were younger and
knew what they were and might even go to
a new one if they were marketed to
emotionally and that’s what I want to
talk to you about today truth in
advertising and the emotional promise
when I began working the branding for
smart people advertising people told me
not to photograph the cast that they
were unknowns but I wanted to capture
the emotional heat that they were giving
looking back there were so many ways we
could have might’ve marketed rent here’s
a list the sudden tragic loss of
Jonathan Larson there were the blazing
reviews up Broadway
there was the East Village world the
characters living there was the AIDS
activism that surrounded those
characters and then there were the
themes of La bohème throughout the show
but producers Jeffrey seller Kevin
Macomb and myself decided to market one
thing how it would feel to go and that
wasn’t an anybody’s list so we came up
with this so that same year producers
Barry and Fran Wiesler invited me to
work on Chicago Sidney Adams had written
a column complaining that Chicago was
actually a glorified concert we were in
charge the outrageous Broadway ticket
price of $75 this was the age of
swinging chandeliers and gondolas in the
fog and so spectacle was in but I wanted
to capture the sizzle the cast was
giving not the Jailhouse plot so here’s
some of the things we might have
marketed on Chicago there was the sexy
black of the overall show there were the
legendary creators candor
there’s the revival of a little-known
show perhaps a flop there was the
extraordinary woman’s performances in
the show and there was the sort of
less-is-more idea all of these were true
elements of the show so which one to
focus on I decided to try and solve a
marketing a perceived marketing pot hole
value for dollar by owning the
minimalism but how to do that we
ultimately decided that black-and-white
fashion photography was the answer why
the thinking was that when Calvin Klein
runs a black boy fashion had no one
thinks he doesn’t have the budget for
color there were problems some key
members of Chicago told me I had turned
the show into pornography but the reason
this advertising I think has such
longevity even today are the emotional
promises we made right from the very
beginning and the promises the
advertising makes are the exact same
promises the show delivers on night
after night and when you’re advertising
delivers the same emotion that your show
does then your word of mouth sores skip
to 2011 I was standing with producer
Margo lion watching a run-through of
catch me if you can but she turned to me
and said I’m really not sure I like it
but I’m not sure what the event is I
said what does that mean and she said I
don’t really know I’m not sure what that
term explains for me but I became
obsessed with what its meaning could be
so my definition is an event is how a
guest recommends your project your show
your visiting your story to another
potential ticket buyer in positive terms
so how do you define your event okay
here goes first know your specific
audience then define the selling point
you have as assets every show has tons
make a list then rearrange that
do you get them in order of strength
then consider any built-in negatives
from the beginning but here’s the big
deal here’s the most important thing I
want to say are your promise is true
you’re promising an audience something
truly special can you deliver on them
what happens when your promises aren’t
true your word of mouth literally sinks
can your promises be handed on from one
person to the next
not every promise is is easily passed on
and this leads me to another term that I
love to use over the years and it’s the
but non-event is simple the non-event is
the lowest common denominator it is
literally the thing you would least like
someone to say about you but this is
what I’ve learned you took me the
longest time to learn this is the
hardest thing if you don’t create your
own event one that is true powerful
delivers an emotional promise and it’s
easily transferred from one person to
the next then your consumer will default
to the non-event and that is not what
you want I don’t always get this right
sometimes you pick the wrong thing to be
the event sometimes there is no right
thing I worked on a show called big fist
that I loved they ran on probably for
132 performances but through its
wonderful qualities it lives on if
you’re watching this at home and you
don’t know a big fish that’s on me
that’s that proves my point I didn’t get
this right so here’s some things we
could have marketed big fish as their
event so there were the great reviews in
Chicago in fact we got middling reviews
but what the hell are they now in
Chicago so
score and there’s my anger limpa
audiences weren’t sure who he was there
was a story of a dying man and the tall
tales he tells his son and that is sad
and mailed there was a great leading
performance by Norbert Leo Butz people
didn’t know who that was there was a
love story which is probably what we
should have gone with there was southern
charm Fran Weisser once said to me charm
equals boring there was a film based by
Tim Burton that was visually very cool
and it was directed a broadway by susan
stroman and produces fame and that is
what we went with in the end none of
these are quite right and a wonderful
show closed too early you do not always
get it right but sometimes you do I was
fortunate enough to see the first
reading in New York City the act one was
staged in street clothes and powdered
wigs act to Jess son and I said to
myself this is the best musical theater
I have ever seen producer Jeffrey seller
came up to me said what you think I said
this is the best musical theater I’ve
ever seen and I’ll tell you why I went
back to the office and told them it was
the best musical theater I’d ever seen
and they mocked me so but in the end the
rest is history but we began to think
really hard about the non-event I was
convinced this was the one show everyone
could love from a granddaughter to a
grandmother and all we needed was for
the marketing to stay out of the way of
the show and for the the audience to be
the broadest possible one you could
imagine that was Michael a dear Broadway
marketing friend of mine says to me
marketing to everyone is marketing to no
one which is a very good phrase it’s set
for this time I didn’t think it was
right I defined the non-event to be
hip-hop history which Lynn would say on
occasion this is why if you love hip-hop
you might not be that into history if
you love history you might not be that
into hip-hop and thus we split the
audience in half
yes I get asked all the time what was
the event for Hamilton and that’s easy
it was the best musical thing you have
ever seen okay it’s time for my 11
o’clock number I could deliver an
arresting visual that has shocked it off
I could try and take current event to
make this forced metaphor I could use a
statute to create a feel-good moment I
could invoke Amal Tim which always seems
to work but I chose the third one after
9/11 Rob I was really uncertain what
would come next would the show go on
would consumers feel safe in a theatre
government realized that in fact
Broadway was the face of New York City
if not the country and the best way to
send a message that business was alive
and well here was to bring a message of
a resurgent Great White Way some
Broadway marketing friends and I began
to come together to think about creating
a television commercial we wanted to do
nothing less than create an emotional
promise for the theater on a sunny
Tuesday we invited all of Broadway’s
performers to come together at the
Shubert theater for free in full costume
to rehearse and perform and tape a TV
commercial in Times Square I don’t
believe all the Broadway has ever been
brought together before in one place at
one time in the modern age we were the
first people allowed back in Times
Square which had been sealed off
director Jerry Mitchell choreographed
with a bullhorn and all union workers
worked pro bono I was standing outside
the Shubert theater waiting to address
the performers when I heard a loud
rhythmic jangling sound it grew louder
and we looked up and around the corner
came the entire Rockettes
in a kick line across an empty time
square there to lend support and we all
fell apart with tears and emotion I can
feel it right now how it felt that we
wanted to create an emotional promise
for Broadway a promise that was true a
promise that was resonant for our
audience a promise that only we could
say a promise filled with resiliency
creativity community camaraderie
diversity innovation all wrapped up in
an American truly American art form a
promise of truth and advertising thank
come to New York and let’s go on with
the show

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