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The Postcard Is Dead! Long Live The Postcard!

Friday, April 9, 2010 Leave a Comment

(Postcard: Isaiah Tanenbaum)

The postcard for Jacob's House is out, and it's a beauty. Designed by resident graphic wizard Isaiah Tanenbaum, with brainstorming led by the Core Members, I'm very happy with how this slightly-more-rushed-than-usual postcard turned out.

Why? Because Isaiah's design:
  • Tweaks one of the greatest representations of man touching the divine
  • Is both playful and transgressive, like the play itself
  • Incarnates the play's exploration of Manifest Destiny through the American flag backdrop
  • Has a strong visual energy, with the text and imagery moving on crossing diagonals
But now the bigger question: should we even continue to make postcards?

Some time ago on the #2AMT Twitter conversation (if you're on Twitter and not following, you're missing the action), the ROI of postcards has come into questions. With so much happening online, are they necessary? How many tickets are actually sold through postcards? Or are they simply a tangible reminder of an ephemeral medium that we hold onto more from nostalgia than practicality? And that's not even factoring in environmental concerns. it's hard to look at that sad pile of unused postcards when the show is done.

This has been an ongoing debate within Flux for some time now, and we have resolved that debate temporarily by pushing ourselves to make postcards that matter, postcards that not only serve as a marketing tool, but as a means of talking about the play and clarifying our aesthetic approach.

The Pretty Theft postcard process led us to a series of polaroid style postcards (collect them all), and The Lesser Seductions of History postcard superimposed the characters over the haunting Zapruder film in a bookmark (bookmarks being useful even if you never see the show). In both cases, the debates over marketing imagery translated directly into aesthetic choices in the shows. I learned almost as much about rewriting Lesser Seductions from the marketing meetings as I did from the workshops.

But, you ask, couldn't that have happened through the conversation surrounding an online image or video? Yup, it sure could. So the question returns - are postcards worth the investment? if so, what tactics are you using to make them count? If not, what takes their place?

6 comments »

  • Matt A said:  

    I'm facing this same issue in my marketing day job. Some thoughts...

    Put a different URL on the postcard, one that forwards to your regular site automatically, to measure the web traffic they generate. Perhaps even put the URL on stickers, individualized for each person to whom you give a stack, each with their own URL.

    My feeling is that postcards just don't matter. I don't believe they convince people to go, nor does everyone have a place in their house where they'd put a postcard and look at it on a regular basis.

    That said, if you're designing your own, they really don't cost much at all.

    I think what's much more compelling is a simple, single-page website. And I don't mean compelling like 'where will we put the menu' or 'should we use SignPainter Bold or Gotham Rounded?' I'm talking a vivid piece of integrated digital art.

    THEN...and this is something I've thought about a lot...

    Create a digital postcard, along with some text, links, & pics, for people involved in the show to send to their contacts. I know those emails from theatre friends stay in my inbox to remind me to buy tickets. Helping to make those emails more compelling would do a lot for an indie theatre company, I think.

  • Adam said:  

    I feel like when you're out somewhere and you see a friend and want them to come to your show, you can give it to them. It's easier to ignore an email than a postcard and you can put them in bars and in other theaters and people there can pick it up and look at it.

  • August Schulenburg said:  

    Matt,

    Me, too - the increasing overlap between my day and night work is a satisfying thing. The URL (or even personalized URL, or PURL) on a postcard is something I've considered as potential tool, but at least for Flux, I only see it being useful if we had purchased a mailing list with a large number of theatre lovers who didn't know Flux. Then, measuring how many of them took the next step to go to our website, and then how many actually bought tickets, would be a measurable way of evaluating that tactic. But right now that kind of mailing list and effort is priced well out of our range.

    Another option would be to link the possession of the postcard to some kind of discount, a 'bring this to the box office' kind of thing, but with the low ceiling of ticket price, it's questionable if the discount would be big enough to matter, and furthermore, if we could afford it being successful.

    The single page website is an interesting idea, though with Flux having a blog and website as separate entities already (not to mention Facebook) I'd worry about creating yet another online destination unless it lived in the website proper. But I agree - spending the postcard money on a really persuasive, exciting landing page may ultimately be more worth it.

    On the other hand, Adam is right - having that thing to hand someone is really nice. They may keep it (especially if it's a functional item like a bookmark) or immediately discard it, but it has extra meaning because it's attached to a face to face transaction.

    Not sure I've resolved this in my own mind, but thanks for knocking it around with me!

  • Isaiah Tanenbaum said:  

    Gus,

    First of all, thanks for your kind words on the design. This one felt very much like a group effort, and I think we're getting better at bouncing back and forth and arriving quickly at the design we all like.

    As for utility, one thing that we sort of stumbled upon in the designs for the Trilogy, and confirmed with Pretty Theft and Lesser Seductions, is that a useful postcard is better received than one that merely advertises the show. Being able to say "I'm in this show; you'll note from this handy postcard that XYZ" is better than saying "I'm in this show; here's a postcard [for you to carry around and be annoyed/guilted by]." Yes, almost all postcards have some useful information -- dates, location, ticket info -- but since the Trilogy ours have gone that extra mile, and I believe (or at least hope) that people are consequently using them as more than mental placeholders.

    The Trilogy card had a show calendar that even I, as an actor, consulted during the run to make sure I knew when my next show was. I'm still rather proud of all the information I managed to condense onto that calendar, which in turn had to take up no more than a quarter of the back of the design, to make room for the 30 (!) artist credits.

    We followed this up with the map that first appeared on the Pretty Theft postcards; attentive readers will recognize it on the JH card, where it reappears with new colors and fonts. Somehow we squeezed a map onto the Lesser Seductions bookmark, too.

    Unlike more comprehensive offerings from larger companies (posters, brochures, mailings, magazine ads), a postcard represents the entire physical marketing package for most OOB shows. Consequently I think that the best designs take a little bit of inspiration from all of these sources; the weaker designs only use one.

  • Anonymous said:  

    The day may soon come when enough people have iPhones or similar walk-about technology that postcards will be totally useless. For now, though, I agree that having a tangible item you can hold in your hand or stick on your fridge is a good thing. Some high school kids were asked recently how they pick shows or movies to see (can't reference the study, I'm afraid). Most said they chose based on billboards and posters, as opposed to e-media. When asked why, they said because they can't escape or delete the adverstising.

  • Matt A said:  

    At the end of the day, it probably doesn't matter too much what form the marketing materials take on a small budget production. It's always going to depend on the devoted work of everyone involved in the production to get the word out and be proactive/persuasive with people they think will enjoy the piece.

    If someone told me I couldn't miss their play, I wouldn't miss it. I'm surprised how rarely words that strong are used...