Behind the scenes with a brand: Cirque du Soleil plays the Vegas slots, comes up straight cherries with Kà

World-renowned live entertainment company Cirque du Soleil is in the business of making big spectacles, and its latest stage production is no exception. It's called 'Kà' and at $5 million for the marketing budget, it's the Montreal-based company's biggest launch effort yet.

World-renowned live entertainment company Cirque du Soleil is in the business of making big spectacles, and its latest stage production is no exception. It’s called ‘Kà’ and at $5 million for the marketing budget, it’s the Montreal-based company’s biggest launch effort yet.

SEPTEMBER 2003 – ‘I CAN’T GET TO THE PHONE RIGHT NOW – I’M EITHER AWAY FROM MY DESK OR IN A MEETING’

* The Cirque du Soleil team, headed by Mario D’Amico, VP marketing, and Joanne Fillion, brand director, has its first meeting with Diesel’s team, headed by Bertrand Cesvet, senior partner and chairman, and Martin Gauthier, general director, interactive marketing. About four people are directly involved from Cirque and five from Diesel.

* The goals are straightforward: sell 60,000 tickets before the show opens for previews on Nov. 26, 2004, and create a buzz both in Las Vegas and among members of the ‘creative class’ (a primarily male, affluent demographic) in feeder markets.

Diesel has worked with Cirque on previous shows, most recently ‘Zumanity.’ Like that show, ‘Kà’ – which at this point has not yet been given a name – will show exclusively in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino. MGM is also a marketing partner along with Cirque.

* In a series of four one-hour meetings, Diesel sits down with Robert Lepage, stage director/writer of ‘Kà,’ who shows them a script and some other visual materials (sketches, animations on CD-ROM, etc.) in an attempt to have Diesel understand what the production is about. ‘Kà’ examines themes of duality as told through the story of twins with two different views of the world who embark on an epic journey.

Unlike the typical client/agency interaction, the nature of the product – emotive art – doesn’t lend itself to mediation by account executives. Says Cesvet: ‘It really differs from other clients we have because at these meetings the notion of having someone who briefs the creative team on our end doesn’t work. From the get-go we have open access to the creators of Cirque du Soleil and at the same time they have total access to our creative teams.’

* The gang has six months to pull together

the $5 million plan.

OCTOBER 2003 – D’AMICO, CESVET

TO HEAD MARKETING ‘DREAM TEAM’

* The first task is to put together the two teams that will work on the marketing and come up with a name for Lepage’s show. One team comprises people from MGM, Diesel and Cirque. Its job is to work on the marketing programming, which involves determining what the core messaging will be, selecting the target audience and markets, budgeting, and media and PR strategy.

The other team, headed by Diesel VP creative Philippe Meunier, is made up of creatives from Diesel and Cirque. Its task is to work on creating a name and aesthetic for the show, as well as the communications material.

* The media budget is set at just under $4 million. If sales targets are hit, Cirque expects revenues of close to $7 million.

* First show rehearsals take place and parts of some costumes are seen by the marketing teams to help them come up with the ‘visual evocation’ for the brand. This process and coming up with a name takes several months.

JANUARY 2004 – WE NEED A NAME. NOW!

* After generating over 10,000 names, Diesel settles on ‘Kàldera,’ a made-up word meant to evoke themes of fire and heat, which are central to the show.

* Diesel presents that name (and almost 50

others) to Lepage. He likes it

but suggests shortening it to ‘Kà’ because he happens to know it was an Egyptian word that referred to the process of separation of the body and soul at the time of death. This fits in with the show’s other central theme of duality. Diesel then presents Kà and two backups to Guy Laliberté, founder and CEO of Cirque du Soleil for approval.

* The visual identity features a primarily red palette, evoking duality, heat, martial arts, energy and schism. The faces of the twins as depicted on the main visual are similar in appearance, with one being masculine and the other feminine. They are intentionally portrayed as being of indefinite race to emphasize Cirque’s universal inspiration

and appeal.

* The final look has to be approved by Laliberté. Says D’Amico: ‘It’s a very nervewracking meeting where we have to go up and see Guy and Daniel Lamerre (president of Cirque) and show them what

we have done.’

* Laliberté likes what he sees and suggests only some changes to the texture of the logo, which was initially flatter. The change improves readability and evokes the particular architecture (dominated by wood posts and beams) found inside the theatre.

FEBRUARY 2004 – FIRST ONLINE, THEN LAS VEGAS, THEN THE WORLD!

* The Web is Cirque’s lead-off media for ‘Kà.’ Diesel starts working on it immediately after approval of the name and visual identity. It has to be ready for the press conference announcing the show in April.

* Diesel and Cirque lead with the Web for a number of reasons; one big one is an existing database of over 700,000 Club Cirque members online.

Additionally, it’s more effective to tell a story through the Web. The idea is to explain to the audience how ‘Kà’ differs from previous Cirque shows. This isn’t as easily accomplished using print, outdoor and TV. Finally, the Web is simply a more cost-effective tool.

* The Web site goes through three iterations, first as a placeholder put up to confirm the rumours that a new show is coming. The second phase is for registration. Here Cirque tells the show’s story and accumulates leads. Visitors are asked for their contact details so they can later be informed of the show’s opening and buy advance tickets.

The final version of the site gives more details about the show

and is unveiled at the press conference launch in April. Creative direction is by Diesel’s Meunier and art direction is by David Lee and Caleb Kozlowski. Combined with a rousing orchestral score, the site features animation using Picasso-like visuals done in a style that evokes constant movement. The site is packed with all sorts of goodies for fans and the curious alike, from soundtracks to various Cirque shows to a boutique where consumers can buy various Cirque-related merchandise.

MARCH 2004 – THIS MARKETING PLAN IS GOLD, JERRY! GOLD!

* Diesel presents its marketing program to Cirque. Media includes Web, print, TV, building wraps, billboards and marquees on the Vegas strip and cinema ads.

* The media buy is concentrated in Las Vegas itself, but certain feeder markets – particularly California – are also targeted. Cesvet says the key is getting visitors to Las Vegas aware of and interested in the show.

‘The first thing we need to have is the support of the local people,’ he says. ‘We need the cab driver to say: ‘You know what? This is big, go see it.”

* D’Amico says both Laliberté and Lepage made few changes to the final marketing materials. ‘Having done a few of these now this was probably one of the smoothest ones. We had three meetings with Guy and in the last meeting we had our recommendations and he made just a couple of comments regarding the hue of the red/rust colour. And for Guy to be held to one comment is something.’

APRIL 2004 – WE ARE LIVE IN 3… 2… 1

* Accompanying the April launch is a national and local PR push driven by Cirque Corporate PR and Las Vegas-based Kirvin Doak Communications. Says Cesvet: ‘National U.S. media are in love with Cirque, so we got plenty of coverage,’ in magazines like Time and Las Vegas Review.

* In-market and Web advertising begins. Media buying is handled by Las Vegas-based SKG, MGM-Mirage’s media AOR.

NOVEMBER 26, 2004 – LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION!

* The Diesel/Cirque team easily surpasses its expectation of selling 60,000 public preview tickets – by 20,000, in fact. The media premiere is scheduled for Feb. 3, 2005.

* The team calculates that it racked up over 200,000 Aeroplan

miles getting Kà done. ‘We’re all Aeroplan super élites now,’

laughs D’Amico. Heavy travel wasn’t the only thing it took.

‘We went through a lot of Grey Goose Vodka and Red Bull,’

he says.