I happened to catch a few moments of Gene Kelly and Van Johnson dancing in the 1954 MGM musical Brigadoon on television the other night.
As was typical of Kelly’s choreography, when he and Van Johnson danced together their steps mirrored each other. And Johnson, who was a respectable hoofer, acquitted himself very well. But still I couldn’t help looking first and most often at the immortal Kelly.
Little wonder, I suppose. Gene Kelly was so talented, a famous perfectionist, and a grindingly hard worker yet he still somehow managed to make every step look fluid, even facile.
So much so that when the great Latvian dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov was considering defecting to the West during the bad old Soviet days, one thing that gave him pause was that all American dancers might be as skilled as Kelly or Fred Astaire. Hah!
(Baryshnikov once said of Astaire, “His perfection gives us complexes, because he’s too perfect. His perfection is an absurdity that’s hard to face.”)
All that’s a given. Even though Van Johnson was pretty good I had to force myself to watch him. As I did so, it finally came to me why it took effort to notice him there next to Kelly.
Part of the reason my eyes gravitated to Gene Kelly was that he wore his pant legs hemmed quite high. As he danced you could see flashes of red socks peeking through. I couldn’t see any of Van Johnson’s socks.
In short, Gene Kelly was practicing showmanship. Maybe even gamesmanship.
Like Gene Kelly and Van Johnson you may be doing the same dance… the same bunch of cause marketing steps… that other sponsors or respectable and worthy causes are doing. What do you do to stand out?
More on that in a moment.
John Wayne practiced showmanship, too. I saw an interview wherein he confessed that he developed his famous rolling walk early in his career… when he wasn’t the featured actor… so that when he was in a scene he wouldn’t be missed, even as a secondary character.
And it’s not just performers who employ the tricks and techniques of showmanship to make them get noticed.
I once watched a debate between William F. Buckley (who launched modern American conservatism) and John Kenneth Galbraith, the eminent liberal economist. The debate took place on the stage of a large symphony hall and featured two podiums set about 20 feet apart. Not far behind them was a massive floor-to-ceiling curtain. Galbraith was 6’9” tall (206 cm) and even in the cheap seats where I was you could see that he towered over Buckley. When Galbraith would score points, Buckley would aimlessly back up to the curtains and position himself between the folds where he would gently sway back and forth, drawing attention his way. It was a rude and brilliant act of stagecraft.
A showman’s greatest technique might be his professionalism or imperturbability. The American writer Mark Twain had intertwining careers as both a writer and a speaker. When he spoke his humor and wit seemed perfectly off-the-cuff. But that was only because his preparations were so exhaustive. Twain would script not only his text, but also his asides and quips, and then rehearse it all until he appeared to be speaking extemporaneously. The great British wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who we think of as an unflappable man of the moment, did much the same when he gave speeches.
Some of the same lessons apply to cause marketing.
If you’re a charity or sponsor, look around. No matter how worthy your cause or campaign, you’ve got competition. For money and attention.
How do you make sure that your campaign stands out?
I've already offered three suggestions. Gene Kelly and William Buckley practiced great showmanship. Mark Twain and Winston Churchill prepared and polished with enormous professionalism. All brought panache to their performances.
But by showmanship I don’t mean “cutting through the clutter,” per se. We all are bombarded by thousands of messages a day, commercial and otherwise. That’s clutter. One of the appeals of cause marketing is that by itself it can help cut through the clutter.
Instead, what I want to highlight are three media choices that can help your cause marketing campaign ‘flash a little red sock’ while everyone else contents themselves to show you their plain old pant leg.
For a ‘sale’ (whatever that means to you) to take place a customer typically moves from awareness of your product/service along a continuum to interest, then to desire, commitment and finally action.
For the sake of ease let’s just say that there are six basic tactical media choices available to marketers:
Depending on the campaign, the audience and the budget, all may have a role to play. But the most efficient media are those that can move the sales process from interest to action in one fell swoop. While there are always exceptions, mass media can’t do that. Neither can public relations or direct mail.
- Mass media (in its many varieties)
- Public relations
- Direct mail
- Internet including social media
- Personal communications.
But certainly the Internet can. So too can events and personal communications.
As you plan your cause marketing campaigns work to make the most of these three media.
Do it right, with showmanship, professionalism and panache, and like Gene Kelly it will be your campaign people notice, no matter who else is also dancing.