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Cause Marketing the Ballet

Most ballet companies in the United States balance their books each year based in large measure on how well their performances of The Nutcracker go each December.

And for that they owe no small debt of gratitude to Willam Christiansen, who founded the San Francisco Ballet in 1933 and the forerunner of Ballet West in Salt Lake City in 1963. Christensen was also the first American to choreograph and mount a full-length version of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker in the United States, although the great Russian choreographer George Balanchine had choreographed it in Europe years before.

So a ballet company would certainly welcome a little extra publicity during The Nutcracker season.

At least that’s one way to read this ad from a local Audi dealer that began its run in the Salt Lake City newspapers before Christmas and featured Ballet West’s Principal Ballerina Christiana Bennett and Soloist Haley Henderson Smith in costume.

The copy at the bottom of the ad tells us that Strong Audi is the “official vehicle supplier of Ballet West.” Ballet West’s website says that Strong’s sponsorship clocks in between $25,000 and $49,999. If Strong Audi’s sponsorship is in-kind, that’s one car.

Two pieces of background that are important to the discussion: Salt Lake City is an awfully small market to be supporting a ballet company of the quality of Ballet West. And, although they have terrific dance resumes, Bennett and Smith are not widely known in the market except among ballet cognoscenti.

Still, if Strong Audi paid no more than $49,999 they got Bennett and Smith and their employer, Ballet West, for a bargain. These kinds of ads are very common with professional sports teams. But I can all but guarantee that you can’t get two of the best players on a professional sports team in one of the major sports in the United States… baseball, basketball, football… for a sponsorship of just $49,999.

Strong Audi might respond that Ballet West dancers don’t deliver the same promotional punch that two NBA players would, for example. Probably true. But if I were Ballet West, while I would certainly ask for more money, I would settle for a real promotion.

Don’t just put my pretty ballerinas in your ad, I would say, promote The Nutcracker. Help me put butts in the seats. Help me sell season tickets. Help me introduce ballet to the next generation. Help me find new donors.

For instance, on December 30 and 31, Ballet West is doing a comic version of The Nutcracker called “The Nutty Nutcracker.” The choreography is basically the same as the regular Nutcracker, it’s just played for laughs.

Imagine, then, a promotion that would take place at Strong Audi’s showroom. Ballet West would perform several abbreviated numbers from The Nutty Nutcracker. TV stations would be invited. A donation would be made to Ballet West anytime someone takes a test drive of some qualifying Strong Audi. During the promotion, if someone makes a donation to Ballet West, Strong Audi would match up to a certain amount. And anyone who buys a Strong Audi during the promotion would get season tickets to the next Ballet West season.

Done right and to scale, such a promotion would be worth more to Ballet West than $25,000 to $49,000.

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