A sexy, silly calendar is both a product and a marketing tool
By Eliza Bent
Clockwise from top left, the "Men of Dad's Garage" pinups; George Faughnan and Matt Stanton (September), Kevin Gillese (December), Mike Schatz (July) and Tommy Futch (May). (photos by Stacey Bode)
Announce your season in a fun way; make marketing itself a product.
Create an appealing calendar with show listings, witty photos and fake holidays.
The Dad's Garage ensemble; marketing director Linnea Frye; photographer Stacey Bode.
Patrons are both entertained and constantly reminded of the theatre.
Expensive; time and labor intensive.
Cartoon fold-out; online videos; staying true to self.
Isn't it strange that calendars even exist in the first place? Why do humans need bound paper (or electronic charts) to tell them what day and year it is? Shouldn't we know this information automatically? How ironic that calendars can seem so...outdated. And yet these time-telling instruments are useful beyond measure. They are consulted all year long and provide obvious, essential information: Sorry—can't see that play next Thursday because it's Uncle Eddie's birthday soiree. Gotta reschedule next Tuesday's rehearsal because that six-month dental cleaning just cannot be postponed. If you're old school, you scribble down anniversaries, appointments and lunch dates. Perhaps you're a month-at-a-glance type, or maybe you prefer a week-by-week Moleskine that lurks at the bottom of your pocketbook or messenger bag. Zeitgeisters, on the other hand, opt to fecklessly tap information into their fancy phones or laptops.
But let's not forget that images often accompany the classic calendars that adorn our desks, kitchens and bedrooms. Cute animals, tropical locales, famous inspirational quotations and words-of-the-day are timeless. There's also the "sexy" approach: from bikinied women draped across old-fashioned convertibles to buff and shirtless New York City firefighters, calendars are often an excuse for all kinds of eye candy—in Italy gondoliers and even priests often make the pages of touristy calendars. Now the men of Dad's Garage Theatre in Atlanta, Ga., have generously offered themselves up for month-long ogling.
The 16-year-old comedy company's marketing director, Linnea Frye, says she always had the idea to do a silly calendar as a replacement for one season-marketing tool or another. "But we don't have a lot of plan-aheaders," she says, noting how the majority of Dad's Garage ticket sales occur within 48 hours prior to the show. "Our improv audiences are mostly 18 to 35, and our play audiences are in the 25 to 45 bracket." For the past few years, Dad's Garage stopped sending out season listings altogether due to the last-minute nature of ticket sales. Nevertheless, the idea for a funny calendar continued to percolate.
"I've been really into the idea of product-as-marketing instead of marketing-as-marketing," Frye explains. "Give people something they will enjoy instead of a trailer that says, 'You will enjoy this.'" This past summer, when Dad's Garage had a bit of expendable income, Frye convinced artistic director Kevin Gillese (aka Mr. December) to spring for a "Men of Dad's Garage" calendar. "We thought it would be funny to say the 'men' of Dad's Garage and have Amber Nash, the lone female in the artistic ensemble at the time, pose as a man." (Nash is "Mr." March, but since the calendar was shot, Dad's Garage has added another woman to its artistic roster. Moreover, Frye observes, two younger tiers of company improvisors not only have more women in their ranks but also better reflect Atlanta's diversity.)
The calendar lists Dad's Garage shows and times. It also delineates improv classes, staff birthdays and a few fake holidays such as National Duran Duran Appreciation Day (Aug. 10), Bring Your Teddy Bear to Work Day (Oct. 13) and National Work Naked Day (Feb. 1). Was it difficult to plan a year of shows in advance? "We decided we wanted to leave a couple of production slots open so that we'd have some flexibility," Frye says. As a result, "Dad's Grab Bag" is peppered throughout the color-coded calendar. Additionally, Dad's Garage increased its performance calendar by 20 percent this year. "It's the first time we've done 8 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. shows every Thursday, Friday and Saturday," says Frye, adding that the fuller schedule was yet another reason to make a calendar and raise awareness.
It was essential for Frye and her team to hire a photographer they could trust and who would understand the Dad's Garage aesthetic. "I used to do all of our photography myself," she confesses. Stacey Bode, who's married to ensemble member Matt Stanton (one of the shirtless Mr. Septembers) proved to be just the right shutterbug. (The fact that ensemble members knew her and felt comfortable with her was a huge bonus.) Prior to shoots, Frye says she, Bode and artistic director Gillese discussed different photo concepts that would reflect the personalities of the performers: "For January, we knew we wanted Z. Gillispie because he's so dapper. Christian Danley is really into robots, so we knew we wanted that aspect in his photo." Once a concept was decided on, Bode and her "models" were left to their own devices, and 10 potential shots were turned over to Frye.
"You can probably tell from the photos that there was a lot of laughing," says Bode. "A lot of laughing."
For the most part, everything went smoothly. (Frye didn't attend a single shoot.) Only October had to be reshot because, according to Frye, "it was a bit too gory and not cheeky enough." Despite the excellent outcome, Frye doubts Dad's Garage will recreate a yearly calendar any time soon. "We don't want to get bogged down with doing one every year," she says, adding, "It's good to leave room for other ideas." These other ideas include a giant cartoon fold-out with comic-strip panels announcing the season, along with more online videos. Dr. Frapples, an invented Dad's Garage character, has recently answered questions posed by fans of Dad's Garage Facebook page. Dr. Frapples responds via video, and Frye hopes to continue with these missives on a daily basis.
There has not been a marked uptick in ticket sales, but Frye and her team did not expect one. "We had long-term results in mind, and wanted to create content that could go off stage as well." She goes on to reflect, "Trends and the economy and people's moods change so quickly, I think the more we can just do cool things and be who we are, the better off we'll be in the long run."
Perhaps surprisingly, Dad's Garage chose not to sell the calendars. "It's more powerful to have the calendars in many people's hands than in the hands of the select few who would pay for them," contends Frye. Most of the 5,000-unit print run was handed out to patrons in August and September (the calendar runs August 2010–July 2011).
As for photographer Bode, she says she unwittingly uncovered a new market for herself: "Several guys have now expressed an interest in doing a 'dudeoir' (the male version of boudoir) shoot with me."
In all, the calendar project cost about $9,000. "It was more than I've ever spent on anything—I nearly had a heart attack!" jokes Frye. Despite the DIY/grassroots approach, the results look sleek and professional. Yes, it's a comedy theatre, and though the photos possess a humorous tone, they don't exhibit the jankety, dorky tenor that often mars comedic marketing materials.
"Just because we have a shoestring budget," says Frye, "we didn't want to be lazy. The people I work with love their craft. Even though we don't pay a gazillion dollars, we give people the opportunity to do fun things." That's as timeless a strategy as any.blog comments powered by Disqus
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