Salesmanship Long on Theatrics

Theater can take lots of forms. One of my favorite theater tricks is something I performed years ago. This particular act was more pantomime than song and dance. We said nothing. In fact, a passive, static prop provided all the theater. This particular selling idea came directly out of the advertising idea that we were trying to sell, which came directly out of this product's primary point of difference. My ad agency worked for Lotus Development Corporation, and we were presenting an idea for what they called a "document processor."

Lotus was late to get into word processing, so the company tried to leapfrog word processing with a concept for a "document processor," designed for lengthy, complex technical documents. At that time, the top-selling word processors, Microsoft Word and WordPerfect, were built primarily for business letters. With our niche being long documents, we had an idea for a print ad that was long. in fact, it was a double-gate, 16-page advertisement to run in Time magazine, nearly 70 inches long. To my knowledge it was the longest ad ever in Time, the longest from the standpoint of length when it was folded out, and probably the most expensive single, one-time insertion at the time in that magazine — about a million dollars, I believe.

To sell the concept of long document processing, and to sell the concept of a long ad, we created a tangible selling device. Our theater was a runner on the floor that looked like a massive, oversized long document. When people got out of the elevator, our runner led them 100 yards to the conference room down the hall. They were forced to actually walk on this very long document. What we did was to take five pages, have them blown up and silk-screened onto some 15-foot-long canvas pieces, and then we repeated it and stitched it all together. it was a production nightmare, but it was theater. it was event marketing designed to sell an idea. And i must tell you that the clients walked into the room already liking an ad they hadn't even seen yet.

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