Don’t grind it ’til you’ve refined it

If you're a fan of the musical Gypsy, the strategy behind the recent transformation of a West Coast strip club will probably remind you of the show-stopper 'You Gotta Have a Gimmick.'

If you’re a fan of the musical Gypsy, the strategy behind the recent transformation of a West Coast strip club will probably remind you of the show-stopper ‘You Gotta Have a Gimmick.’

Built in 1910 as a vaudeville theatre in the Vancouver suburb of New Westminster, the Paramount had become a run-down, run-of-the-mill dive by 1999, when Florida-based entrepreneur Paul Tripp bought the 225-seat venue. Worse still, an unshakable zoning bylaw denied the club a liquor licence.

If the Paramount was to have any chance of packing them in as it did when the 20th century was young, Tripp needed the sort of marketing technique the veteran strippers in Gypsy describe in their song.

In other words, he had to get a gimmick.

‘Most strip bars in our area were quite seedy,’ Tripp explains, ‘and we wanted to distinguish ours by doing something different.’

So what did he choose? Pretty much the same strategy the ‘demurer’ Tessie Tura came up with in Gypsy: ‘If you wanna grind it, wait ’til you’ve refined it.’

Capitalizing on its nonagenarian architecture, Tripp refurbished the Paramount, retaining its vaudeville-type stage, tiered box seats and theatrical atmosphere. And if his dancers didn’t actually ‘bump it with a trumpet,’ they did revamp their costumes and routines to echo both the burlesque strippers of yesteryear and the glamourous Las Vegas showgirls of today.

Next, Tripp needed to get the word out about his unique gimmick – which is where Vancouver’s MacLaren McCann West agency came into the story late last summer.

The challenge

‘Initially,’ recalls creative director Grant Fraggalosch, ‘Paul just asked us to improve the print ads he was running in the local newspapers because they didn’t stand out in the clutter of all the other strip club ads.’

But after spending some time at the Paramount, the MacLaren McCann team convinced Tripp that his club had the potential for something bigger: an entire branding campaign.

‘Obviously, when guys go out to a strip club, they’re expecting a boozy, carousing sort of atmosphere,’ Fraggalosch explains. ‘So not being able to drink alcohol could be seen as a good reason to go somewhere else. What we needed was to convince [potential customers] that they could have an experience at the Paramount they couldn’t get anywhere else, something that would more than make up for not being able to drink.’

The strategy

As Fraggalosch saw it, the burlesque ambience Tripp had created was only one part of the Paramount’s drawing power. The club’s other primary asset was an ironic byproduct of its chief drawback. The same zoning regulations that denied the club a liquor licence allowed it to provide something that full-service B.C. strip clubs cannot legally offer: private dances.

Dubbed ‘lap dances’ in the East, these one-on-one performances are called ‘VIP’ or ‘couch’ dances at the Paramount and take place in a secluded balcony.

‘Those private dances, plus the fact that the club’s dancers are also encouraged to spend time chatting with customers at their tables,’ says Fraggalosch, ‘gave us the key to the branding campaign and our main tag line, which is: ‘Paramount – get closer.”

The execution

Using this tag line and one other – ‘Vancouver’s only burlesque theatre’ – Fraggalosch and his team created print ads and posters using what he calls ‘the old pin-up style of imagery borrowed from the vaudeville period. They are all illustrations [rather than photographs] and the headlines aren’t really raunchy.’

Even the one that reads, ‘The quickest you’ll ever go from asking a girl to dance to getting her naked,’ he considers fairly innocuous in the context of strip club advertising.

At first just displayed in the Paramount’s lobby and men’s rooms, the posters are now being rolled out in sports bars and selected restaurants throughout Vancouver on a 52-week buy.

Meanwhile, the print ads are running regularly in four local newspapers: the Vancouver Province, the Richmond News, the Georgia Strait and a Chinese-language publication. Fraggalosch considers it advisable to stay away from broadcast advertising for fear of ‘ruffling the wrong feathers.’

Additionally, the client okayed the expansion of the creative to adorn tent cards, menus and free admission passes, as well as T-shirts and leather jackets worn by the club’s dancers at cross-promotional sporting events.

Such events include B.C. Lions and Vancouver Canucks games, Indy races, auto shows and charity fund-raisers such as car washes – places where the dancers schmooze and hand out complimentary passes.

The results

Because the Paramount’s branding campaign has only been underway for a few months, Tripp says it’s still too early to measure its success in terms of increased patronage. But he’s already ‘very satisfied’ based on the number of compliments he’s getting.

‘Customers are actually forgetting for awhile that they’re not getting drunk, and they’re just enjoying the shows,’ Tripp adds. ‘Also, we’re getting the couples we originally had hoped to start drawing. Now almost 25% of our customers are women.’

Fraggalosch now envisions an expansion of the Paramount branding campaign. ‘Pretty much all the advertising elements are in place,’ he says. ‘Now we’ve got to think more strategically about other placement and cross-promotional ideas.’