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Black Thoughts about Friday

December 2, 2015

Over the years, the USA has sent us in the UK entertainment industry many wonderful things. Stephen Sondheim, Arthur Miller, Walt Disney, even Netflix and Cindy Crawford (OK, probably just me on the last one, but…) to name just a few. Sadly, what it has been sending us more recently is what America does well, not best or worst, but certainly from this Brit’s viewpoint the most crassly…

… and that is “aggressive marketing.”

It’s the reason we have “premium seats,” where some producers get to act like ticket touts, er, scalpers – ripping into their customers themselves rather than letting third parties do it.

It’s the reason ticket prices are going even higher, and that “sub-premium” and “peak premium” seats are pushing ordinary theatregoers right out of the theatre.

It’s the reason a mediocre show can appear to be a big hit as marketing trickery comes into play when picking seats online.

And, most recently, it’s the reason “Black Friday” arrived here a couple of years ago.

Now, there was some interesting sociological value in the scenes last year, when people were filmed for the news fighting over cheap television sets. Oddly, I felt some sympathy on that. There may have been among them a few who genuinely wanted a big cheap TV set, and couldn’t afford the quality that others might be able to. Rather nice that they got something which made them happy. I also felt for those who probably wanted one to sell on and make a few pounds. Mini-entrepreneurs who couldn’t access mainstream business supply sources, but were willing to “have a go” in the American tradition.

This year, none of this happened in shops, though we are told that online sales were excellent. Now, I don’t know about anyone else, but I actually avoid buying online from mid-November until mid-January if possible. I find that first, e-tailers can’t cope, so what arrives is often damaged by fast careless handling; second, the delivery system does what a careless e-tailer doesn’t – if they manage to deliver at all. Anyway, stuff like DVDs and books always plummet in price once turkey season is over.

Back on the theatrical, several ticket agents took the opportunity to run “Black Friday” deals themselves… and I am going to reveal something exclusively to the lot of them (who won’t read it, I’m sure)…

Guess what, folks: it didn’t make the slightest difference over here! I didn’t see any uptick in either overall sales or even visitor figures compared to any other Friday. In fact, those agents who were NOT taking part in the events, but stuck to their usual habit of “great value all the time,” fared slightly better than usual. And here’s the clincher: The “pre-sale” by Mastercard of the annual London event “Get Into London Theatre” put a massive spike in Theatremonkey visitor figures on the Tuesday before that Friday.

Could it be because normal people, those with a brain who go to the theatre and are immune from crass hype, saw straight through “Black Friday?” More to the point, they probably realised that most of the “ticket offers” were no better (and in one howling case, more expensive) than offers available normally.

Or maybe because theatre tickets make awkward gifts. They are for a specific show on a specific date, so the recipient usually has to know in advance – ruining any surprise; though the memory may last, it isn’t the same as a getting a nicely wrapped, ‘Black Friday Special Stock’ (bought in for the occasion from China’s answer to Arthur Daley) “Soni” TV or “Kenforest Chef” Food Mixer on the big day.

Besides, any keen theatregoer will only want a “hot” ticket to something special. Any show that anyone REALLY wants to see won’t discount – they don’t need to. Add to the fact that London Theatre visitors also come from countries where “Black Friday” doesn’t happen, so are not looking for a deal on a specific date, and you have further proof that universal marketing doesn’t work.

In other words, I really do conclude that this US import is a near-total waste of time and effort when applied to theatre, and hope that as with many retailers this year, it is one US entertainment tradition that will fizzle out even more quickly than it arrived, and perhaps we should be pickier about our transatlantic imports in future.

Er, but that doesn’t apply to you, of course, Ms Crawford….

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