Theater Promotion Strays From Traditional Card Marketing

Integrated marketing services concern Marketing Services Group Inc., New York, is testing a direct mail push for a new affinity credit card issued by MBNA America Bank that will offer prospective cardholders their first benefit before they apply for the card.

People who respond to one of the 350,000 mail pieces dropped Oct. 28 for the Entertainment Edge card will get a 20 percent discount on tickets for “Parade,” a musical playing at Broadway's Vivian Beaumont Theater. The campaign is testing to see which of three follow-up offers is most successful at getting respondents to follow through and apply for the card, which will give regular benefits for theater, music and dance productions. MSGI is betting that prospective cardholders who are hooked by the “Parade” discount will want more entertainment offers — and will apply for the card to get them.

“To our knowledge, it's very new to the industry,” MSGI chairman/CEO Jeremy Barbera said of the program. “The fact that you don't have to be a cardholder to take advantage of the first discount is particularly new. Most credit card companies just say, 'Be a card holder or we have nothing to talk about.' I think it's to MBNA's credit that they took us up on our concept. It certainly breaks the traditional credit card format.”

MSGI's initial targets are theater goers who live in the Boston-Washington corridor, Broadway's core market. The company plans to expand the campaign to buyers of live entertainment in places like Chicago, Los Angeles, London and Toronto.

MSGI, which generated the campaign strategy and is providing the target lists, has a long history of marketing to arts and entertainment clientele, having represented the Boston Symphony, Radio City Music Hall, Madison Square Garden and the San Francisco Ballet.

The effort for Entertainment Edge coincides with Broadway's peak season, from Thanksgiving to Christmas. MSGI will carry out a second, larger mail push in January or February if the first is successful, something Barbera expects to know within the next 60 days. A spokesman at MBNA, Wilmington, DE, whose call center will handle all telephone responses, would not reveal the campaign budget or anticipated response rates.

In addition to show discounts, the program will tie in merchandise and concession discount offers and let patrons join theater tours and educational seminars connected to selected performances. Discounts on restaurants, accommodations and parking are also available.

A coupon visible through the mailing's envelope instructs recipients to call a ticket office and give a code to receive the “Parade” discount. After taking a seating preference, the call center agent will ask callers if they want to apply for the card and receive one of three follow-up gifts.

The gifts being tested include a tote bag, a Zagat's restaurant survey or a Stubs Guide, which gives seating charts to New York's various performance venues. Callers who want to apply will be switched to MBNA's inbound call centers.

Beginning at the end of November, those same call centers will make outbound calls for the Entertainment Edge card. MSGI has teamed with a hotel, restaurant and parking facility to put together a cost-saving offer to potential customers over the phone. Combining these campaigns and others, MSGI hopes to attract close to a million people to the Entertainment Edge card within the next five years.

After beginning talks in 1997, MSGI and MBNA signed a five-year marketing services agreement earlier this year. In February, Barbera brought in Kimberly Willock, a former director of sales for Toronto-based theater company Livent Inc., to consult on the Entertainment Edge program. Willock took over the credit card project after MSGI hired her as vice president of strategic development in July.

“I knew that there were a lot of offers and clubs out there that really didn't offer the best in entertainment,” she said. “Basically, I thought the public might not believe that we're going to give them the best. So let's let them test it.”

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