What Pumpkin Spice Lattes Have To Do With Broadway Marketing

If you’ve walked by a Starbucks in the past few weeks, you’ve seen the signs.

The return of the Pumpkin Spice Latte is around the corner.

When you saw the ad, most likely you thought two things:

  1. I want that Pumpkin Spice Latte in my belly!
  2. OMG, is it fall already?  ACK!

We all know this feeling . . . when we see something that reminds us a major event is coming.

And the funny thing is, the something we “see” is always advertising.

We get back to school shopping reminders in July.  Target has already put out their Halloween stuff.  How many times have you walked into a store, seen Christmas decorations and thought, “It’s not even Thanksgiving yet!”

Why do these big brands put these big retail moments in our face so far in advance?  They want us to buy . . . and, they want us to buy in advance.

Broadway could learn a lesson from this.  

Whenever Broadway suffers a tragic event, our consumers stop buying in advance. 

For example, after September 11th, our audiences stopped buying far out.

After the market meltdown in fall of 2008, they stopped buying in advance.

And after Covid, boy oh boy, did they stop buying . . . period.

It makes sense . . . when faced with trauma, we freeze.  We are unsure.  We don’t want to make big decisions.

“Can we afford it?”  “What happens if there’s another event?”  “Will the performance be canceled after I’ve driven all the way into the city?”

All these questions make it easier for an audience to sit on their hands and NOT click ‘buy tickets.’

Of course, we NEED them to buy in advance.  Advance sales are the foundation of our shows.  It’s what allows Producers to fight through a slow time to get to a better time.  

What should we do?

As always, I like to swipe-and-deploy the initiatives of our much bigger and smarter retail peers.  (By the way, they are only smarter because they do it more often and have more data.)

Two things I recommend:

  1. If we want people to buy in advance, we must tell them to buy in advance. 

If Thanksgiving and Christmas week are our boom times, we should start pushing people to buy soon.  Just like Target, Starbucks, etc.  The Rockettes are great at this. They push their Christmas Spectacular in JULY.

  1. If we want people to buy in advance, we must be on sale FAR in advance.  

There is a theory that we should have shorter on-sale periods to “bottle up” our sales.  Our audience doesn’t respond to these kinds of tactics any more (unless the show is for sure closing).  They want to go when THEY want to go.  And we must allow them to purchase tickets as far out as they want.  And if the show closes?  Well, we give them their money back.  The fact is  . . . it is much easier to give a customer their money back, then get it in the first place.

One thing we all MUST do:  We must stop complaining that our audiences aren’t buying in advance, and make a change to get them TO buy in advance.

What would make you buy in advance?   Lower ticket prices?  The ability to exchange to any performance?  Free Pumpkin Spice Lattes???

Curious to hear your ideas that could change our audience’s habits.  Share them on social and tag me or reply to this email.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.