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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

I saw the musical "Legally Blonde" on Broadway Saturday last night, and now I’m a marked man.

You see, soon after being seated, my daughter caught the blow-in offer that fell out of the program: "send a text, and you could win a CD of the show before it ends." We normally resist all of the exhortations to share an email that come with every product, magazine, or web site my teen daughter visits. 

I don’t know why I caved this time. Perhaps I was giddy at the possibility of getting a "free" CD after spending hundreds of dollars for the live version.


Long before intermission, I received a text reply from "Elle," the eponymous lead character. She wanted my email address, and to confirm that I was older than 13. Where was my CD offer? Had I won or lost? I assumed that a second entry was required, and threw caution to the wind. I clicked on send with a gulp, suspecting what was yet to come.

Another message followed before the show ended, thanking me for replying, and telling me that she hoped I might win (the messages are from Elle, so it’s very personal in a marketing-invented impersonal sort of exploitative way). It also offered to let me Elle-ify my phone screen with a wallpaper download.

The first email dropped at about the same time, also from Elle, and giving me a .jpeg that I could "forward to friends," and an "exclusive fan club" I could join. Links also led to join her friends on Facebook and MySpace to "…meet other fans and dish about the latest Blonde buzz."

So much buzz. Not so much purpose or relevance.

What’s the single most desirable behavior the show’s producers could hope to get out of me? Recommendation. They want me to tell everyone I know that it was a great musical, and get them to buy the songs on iTunes and jump on tickets either in NYC, or when the show goes on its inevitable tour of the hinterlands.

That’s loyalty in the theater-going business, right? 

Instead, I’m getting subjected to seemingly endless social marketing dreck, constructed to get me engaged with marketing stuff…without bothering to understand what would get me involved.

  • Forward the email I got? Why? It says nothing about me recommending it, nor does it obviously share anything back with me for having sent it. There are links to the show website and tickets, but I’ve already seen the show. This isn’t a referral as much as a nice piece of pink junk mail
  • Join a social network? Why? What’s getting shared about the show — did the lead trip, or was a band instrument ill-tuned during one performance or another? A social network without real stuff getting fed into it is just the shell of a community
  • Go to the special web site? Why? Where’s the additional show content — like videos of rehearsals, or tidbits on other content — instead of more glossy marketing stuff? Another show website is, well, another show website
  • Download wallpaper? Why? Did I join a club of fellow show-lovers, and will I get other benefits or content after I dedicate my phone to the image? 

There have to be really smart and fun ways to incentivize recommendations. Sending me a lot of spam isn’t one of them. So much buzz actually distracts me from my original reaction to the show…which was very good, by the way. I’d completely recommend it, only in spite of all of the stupid digital marketing I’m likely to receive from the show until I can figure out how to block it.

But first, I sure hope somebody will tell me whether or not I won the free CD.

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