Finally, finally Mad Men has returned. I stayed up to an unwise hour last night watching the premiere, which is probably evident to all my co-workers this morning via the large purple bags under my eyes. I’m very professional like that.
I’m not going to give anything away, I promise! But in the first few minutes of the show, everyone’s favorite ad rep (amongst other things, if you know what I mean), Don Draper, talks about making a commercial tell a story. It’s not just straight-up advertisement, with the same old devices of someone vaguely in your demographic telling you that this product is being mass-produced and -marketed just for you. For thirty seconds, it pulls you in, entertains you strictly for your benefit, and you pay back the favor by listening to the second half of the commercial, which is the standard sales pitch. Apparently it’s Don’s next revolutionary idea.
I always loved perfume ads – both print and television—for the same reason. They can’t tell you how the perfume smells in a picture or through your tv set, so instead they tell a story. I know now it’s all about branding and company image and very well-researched things like that, but when I adored these several years ago it was for the gorgeous, tan models doing improbable and glamorous things like dancing in train stations, running through grassy expanses in the rain, or riding horses in silk evening gowns. It’s thirty seconds of escapism, breaking up the other two minutes of toilet paper and burger commercials. And, of course, advertising becomes a national focus during the Super Bowl every year, proving that when ads tell a story or make a joke instead of just pushing goods, the audience can actually enjoy them.
Marketing for a theatre, I thought, would be the easiest thing of all to sell. The story behind the advertisement is built in, so good plays will always have good marketing with very little effort involved, so your average marketing intern will only have to worry about staying true to the play being sold. Alas, I was wrong.
We’re trying to tell a story with our marketing, of course, but the challenge is in finding a way to condense an entire play into an image, or a short series of images, while intimating what kind of audiences would and wouldn’t like the play and hinting at what the story is about without giving away too much. All of this, of course, on a modest budget so we can spend our money on making our plays great, rather than cramming bigger audiences into sloppier plays. I have been shocked by how much a print ad costs, scandalized by how difficult it is to create a 50-word summary of a 100-page play, and appalled at how many great ideas don’t pay off for unknown reasons. My experience with marketing was, I thought, pretty comprehensive, but it turns out that in the real world my ad audience isn’t made up of eager and open-minded college students and publicity isn’t as cheap or easy as printing flyers and canvassing the entire campus in an afternoon.
It’s not frustrating so much as it feels unfortunate to think of all the people who will miss these plays but would have loved them if they’d come. I keep wanting to stand on a mountaintop somewhere above the San Gabriel Valley and shout through a bullhorn, “No, really! You’d like it if you came and saw it! We have discount days!” But of course, the town-crier routine has gone technological, which as you can imagine is not easier. But we have rounded up e-mail lists of excited patrons, willing media outlets, and special groups that might be interested. Ticket sales have been pretty stellar this season, thanks to exciting plays by talented playwrights, fantastic actors, and of course your friendly marketing team. So this will be my personal mountaintop: GO! Come see a play. Let us tell you a story, and at the end there won’t even be a pitch for greasy food or deodorant. I’m not saying we’re more brilliant than Don Draper…but I bet he would’ve wished he had something as great as Boston Court to advertise for.