Creating a 3-D mailer that looks and feels like an old-school circus ring did the trick for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. The challenge of marketing the circus is making the familiar and well-loved feel fresh and new, says John Frazee, vice president of marketing of Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey® at Feld Entertainment.

As Frazee explains, these days the general public is bombarded by unsolicited e-mails, regular mail and phone calls. So the flyer had to be eye catching and sent not just to a general audience, but to people who in the past have attended the circus and would most likely have interest and enjoy going to a new show.

The flyer sent through the mail was the best way to reach this select group. It was meant to get people to gain interest in the show and to get them energized that they would help spread the word via word of mouth to others.

The mailer, designed and created by Structural Graphics, a firm based in Essex, Conn., was sent to a carefully targeted group of 2,000 loyal fans in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “These were people who were existing customers and loyal circus arts enthusiasts,” Frazee explains.

To make clear to them that the event in question was something new and different — the 200th anniversary of P.T. Barnum’s birthday — meant signaling this with an extraordinary piece of direct mail.

“Every year, we have a new circus,” he explains. But because circus fans tend to assume things never change, when in fact the show is all-new, the brand works to design distinctive ways to signal that something different is coming to town, and well worth another visit.

Getting the Message Out

Another reason for going all-out on that mailer’s design is that the event was being held at Madison Square Garden, in the heart of Manhattan, attracting significant media attention. “Madison Square Garden has traditionally attracted heightened media coverage, and so the types of materials we produce become a media focus in themselves,” Frazee says.

He notes news releases were sent to the media, and the fact it was an anniversary show made the performance even more newsworthy. To ensure as much interest and attendance in the show as possible, the direct mail flyer was used as an integral part of a multifaceted advertising and public relations campaign.

Frazee says the brand chose mail because they knew they had to reach a specific audience of loyal circus patrons.

“It was a beautiful piece and an expense we undertook to make our target audience feel special. It really was a collector’s piece. We want people to get things that are unique, and we wanted to make this piece a special invitation.”

“Loyal circus customers are important to us, as loyal customers are to any brand, and we always try to cater to them because they deserve special attention,” Frazee says. “Our loyalists are treated with perks, as in any loyalist program. Loyalists generally attend the circus three to five times in a five-year period. Many have consistently gone to the circus over their lifetime, maybe 12–15 times or more in 30 years.”

The mailer fit the campaign as part of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s overall portal and served as a keepsake for the event.

Frazee says the mailer helps the circus retain a great deal of its fan base from year to year, while there are also many new customers every year.

“We did get a tremendous amount of response to the piece itself, people calling and writing and coming up to staff at the show. People told us ‘This was phenomenal!’ It really had a great feel to it, and we got lots of e-mails thanking us for it.”

          What Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Sent

The piece, a shadowbox that mailed flat but became three dimensional by pulling on two side tabs, “was unique like most of the work we do,” said Michael Dambra, vice president of creative services at Structural Graphics.

“It’s very engaging. When we’re looking at mailings we always look for something that will mail flat, but perform in some way and will offer a ‘Wow!’ factor.”

“What we really try to do is create surprise and some form of engagement. With online marketing you don’t have tactile engagement, something you can hold.”

When customers opened the circus mailer, “a childlike fantasy takes place,” Dambra explains.

“The charm was already built into this. When we decide whether to use movement or electronics, we try not to make the mechanism a gimmick.”

Using pieces that are an unusual shape or size is often enough to grab a busy customer’s attention, he says.

“I know that our work can stop a reader. It’s always the first thing to get opened.”

 Attention-Grabbing Mailers

Grabbing your customers’ attention with a well-designed and highly memorable piece of direct mail means making a few decisions, advises Dambra. “It’s not either or when you choose paper versus electronic. It’s both. Smart marketers are using integrated plans. A lot of what we do is meant to drive traffic to a website.”

Dambra evangelizes for paper, especially in a time when customers’ attention is so often focused on a computer, television or phone screen.

“With a paper marketing piece, you stop. You engage with it. You move to the call to action. It gets attention because it stops the reader.”

The added value of using a mailed piece is that it’s not something that oversaturates. As with any marketing material, “it has to make sense, it has to have a good visual, headline and copy message,” Dambra says.

Smart marketers — as Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey demonstrated with their 3-D circus — can choose to use a well-designed and eye-catching paper piece to speak directly and specifically to valued niche customers.

“You can now target three-dimensional pieces to your highest-value prospects,” Dambra says.

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