When Jerry Springer: The Opera opened at The National Theatre in London almost every critic raved that this most unlikely of operas would become a worldwide smash.
Its success was surprising for two reasons. First, who would have imagined that an opera about Jerry Springer would prove so popular. Second, the way in which the opera was developed offers a best practice approach to product development.
A best-selling opera and a slice of marketing genius were unlikely propositions when Richard Thomas sat down at the piano at the Battersea Arts Centre in 2001. Thomas ran ‘scratch nights’ where he improvised around the ideas for imaginary and unlikely productions that the tiny audiences suggested.
An opera about Jerry Springer proved to be a fun and fruitful concept and slowly over these sessions the idea solidified. Comedian Stewart Lee attended one of the evenings and the pair agreed to co-write the opera.
Twelve months later the opera was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe.
It was a huge hit with audiences. Critics were not quite as impressed and despite the audience acclaim, Thomas and Lee read each and every review in great detail. They met with many of the critics to discuss their reactions and to collect suggestions for improvements. With a huge amount of input the pair revisited the script and made major alterations to the structure and content of the opera. One audience member who had been particularly impressed was Nicholas Hytner, artistic director of the National Theatre, and it was he who commissioned its London run.
Marketing is traditionally seen as duet of interactions with the potential consumer.
First, market research is the act of validating the product prior to its launch. Second, marketing is seen as the method in which consumers are persuaded that the product is right for them. The genius of Thomas and Lee is in their very fluid vision of the market. This contrasts with the turgid perspective typically adopted by most organisations. From the very moment of its conception, Thomas was allowing consumers to define, improve and alter his nascent opera.
Even after the opera was finished and performed, the reaction of critics was an opportunity to return to the product’s design and improve it further.
The lesson for marketers from Jerry Springer – The Opera is to avoid monolithic marketing. The opportunities for insight do not end with a product’s launch, they multiply. Negative feedback from the media or from distributors is not an obstacle to be overcome with marketing, but an opportunity to learn and improve. Companies with a continual ear for the market and the agile production capabilities to repeatedly alter and improve the product are set to dominate the markets of the future.
Many of the reviews of the opera referred to it as an “overnight smash”. In fact it is exactly the opposite: a product conceived, grown, improved and built around the people it was designed to entertain. Bravissimo!
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