Feld flavors its circus pitch with new kid hooks

Marketer: Feld Entertainment, producer of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus--Eric Stevens, senior VP and chief marketing officer
February 1, 2002

Marketer: Feld Entertainment, producer of the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus–Eric Stevens, senior VP and chief marketing officer

Agencies: Watertown, Massachusetts-based Big Blue Dot and The Geppetto Group of New York. Feld recently assigned New York-based Avalanche as its national broadcast agency, responsible for producing this coming season’s TV advertising.

The idea: To include kids in the circus pitch, while still maintaining the traditional target audience of moms.

The campaign: With the help of Big Blue Dot, Feld redesigned the circus logo and communications material–including kid-specific posters and TV spots–to make them more relevant to its new target. Local on-air promotions enticed children to try out the circus, and Feld created a CD-ROM with partner JumpStart for release through McDonald’s in certain markets. In addition, the company introduced in-school material to prolong the circus experience.

Market: U.S.

The strategy:

‘With the many entertainment choices that kids have now, the circus isn’t high on their priority list–or even on their radar,’ says Big Blue Dot president Jan Craige Singer. In fact, when Feld Entertainment commissioned a study by Applied Research & Consulting in 1999, the company discovered that while Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey boasted a 95% brand awareness, the fond feelings associated with the circus were held by adults.

By ignoring the very powerful kids audience, the circus was running the risk of going the way of formal family dinners–a fond memory for today’s adults, but merely a charming and antiquated notion for today’s kids.

So Feld needed a new kid-targeted marketing strategy to both increase current attendance levels–which average about 10 million people a year–and build the kid relevancy of the circus for the future. But shifting the marketing target from adults to kids was a tricky proposition. ‘We don’t live in the lives of children year-round,’ says Eric Stevens, senior VP and chief marketing officer at Feld. In today’s sophisticated media environment, the very uniqueness of a circus–the fact that it only comes to town once a year–is also a liability. There’s no circus TV show or toy line to cross-promote the event, for example.

Enter Big Blue Dot in April of ’99. Using the ARC research as a guide, the kid specialist agency zeroed in on equities that would appeal to both children and adults. Blue Dot was also charged with addressing the fact that, according to the study, only one-third of respondents realized that a brand-new production of the circus tours each year.

The agency decided to start with the poster, which Craige Singer calls the ‘heart’ of circus advertising–and from which the rest of the creative would flow. Apart from a logo for ‘The Greatest Show on Earth’ that will appear prominently as a consistent stamp of approval across all the marketing materials, the plan is to have a new illustrator redo the creative aesthetic each year so that folks will realize that the circus changes its theme and main attractions annually.

Blue Dot hired children’s illustrator Chris Van Dusen (whose work has appeared in Nickelodeon magazine) to come up with a poster for the 131st year of performances in 2001, and his design featured an illustration of the new alpine ski jumping segment of the show that has acrobats gliding down a massive ski jump and leaping through hoops of fire.

Developed by The Geppetto Group, a 30-second TV spot called ‘Jaws’ that aired in the U.S. from March to December 2001 played off of Van Dusen’s design. The commercial showcased some of the more hair-raising aspects of the circus, prompting kids’ jaws to quite literally drop to the floor (covering their chins in caramel corn), as the voiceover intoned, ‘So real it’s unreal.’ According to Feld’s Stevens, media for the spot was arranged locally, with an emphasis on Nick, Cartoon Network and Fox Kids. On average, the spot was seen four or five times by 80% of the total number of kids in each market.

An in-school component was as essential to the marketing efforts as a strong TV performance, says Feld, because it extended the circus experience. Available to school classes that went on field trips to the circus, the program included circus-centric curriculum material appropriate for two age groups–kindergarten to grade three, and grades four to six–set up in lesson plans for before and after the show. To enhance the educational value of the field trip, 2001 performances were changed slightly on preordained days so that the ringmaster taught while he emceed. More than 300,000 children in 35 cities attended the school shows last year–up 15% from 2000.

To further extend the brand’s post-show reach, Feld developed a CD-ROM called The Greatest Show on Earth with software partner JumpStart. Distributed with kids meals at Chicago-area McDonald’s in November and December 2001, the disk featured games based on the animals and activities found at the circus, as well as a discount offer for circus tickets and links to the website. In-store displays and TV and radio spots supported the endeavor.

This year, Feld is providing the disks to local-market promoters as part of the marketing splash for the 132nd year of performances, which is already running in South Eastern U.S. states. The marketing team is currently working on another spot by Avalanche that will hit airwaves next month, when the circus comes to the tri-state area (New Jersey, New York and Connecticut) and the all-important Madison Square Gardens venue.

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