Google changes their business and changes ours.

Fact:  60% of consumers use Gmail as their primary email account.

So, you can bet your bippy that when the G-Man makes a change to how it delivers that email, it has an effect on businesses all over the world.

And there’s a change coming that’s about to have a big effect on Broadway.

The thing is, you’re probably going to like this change when you’ve got your consumer hat on.  But put on your Producer hat, and you’re going to sweat through the brim.

Google knows that everyone out there faces inbox clutter, and over the years they’ve set up systems for people to “take charge of their inbox.”  Simply put, they are like the California Closets of . . . uh . . . closets.

In the current configuration of Gmail, you can set up custom filters to have Google shuffle around your e-stuff for you.  Emails from people, or companies can get tossed into whatever folders in your inbox you want.  You can even have ’em automatically read, filed, deleted, whatever.  It’s pretty amazing.

But apparently, it wasn’t amazing enough.

See, setting up filters is a bit of a process . . . one that most people probably aren’t doing.  Are you?

In an effort to make things easier for you (which you might suggest from the company that is developing a car that drives itself), just last week Google announced that they’re adding an auto-filtering tool to everyone’s inbox.

Gmail will now auto sort your incoming email into four main tabs:

  • Primary (your main feed)
  • Social (your Facebook, LinkedIn, and MySpace (joking) messages)
  • Updates (confirmations and receipts)

and . . .

  • Promotions

Guess what Promotions is?

You know, things like discount offers from Staples, Golf Galaxy . . . and, yep, Telecharge, Theatermania, Playbill, YourBroadwayGenius, TicketCentral, SmartTix, BroadwayBox, Ticketmaster, and every other e-direct response initiative our industry uses.  In fact, even this blog is gonna be called a Promotion unless you teach Google that it’s not.

What’s the problem?

Well, all of those lovely emails that we pay big bucks for won’t be visible in 60% of consumer’s primary feeds (if they were lucky enough to get through the fascist spam filters in the first place).  In order to find an offer for a show, a Gmailer will have to select their promotions tab, and then sort through all their other offers from all sorts of sources and select it.

Sure, you can customize Google to treat the email offers differently, but by default, our email blasts won’t be interruption marketing anymore.

In other words . . . open rates are gonna go down . . . and sales are going to go down.  Period.

We’re not the only industry that’s going to be affected by this massive change.  And while I expect some to lobby Google to reconsider, and others to pray that consumers backlash against this update (which hasn’t rolled out system wide – you have to click your gearbox setting and manually turn it on if you want to test it – which I have), I don’t see them backing off this idea.

Seems like a small technology change, I know.  But this is serious.  Our biz has been dependent on this form of communication for years.  It’s been our sales security blanket, and it’s about to get torn away.

No worries, though, I’m sure our email blast providers will drop their rates if it does change their effectiveness.

Right?  Right???

Not likely.  So it’s up to us . . . to find some work around, or even better, a new way to generate sales, and maybe even full price sales at that (!).

Security blankets are fine, but you gotta grow up at some point.  No time like the present.

So thanks for the kick in the promotional pants, Googs.  We need it.


(Got a comment? I love ‘em, so comment below! Email Subscribers, click here then scroll down to say what’s on your mind!)
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  • Merez says:

    I’ve used a “ZOffers” folder for years. I have it set up to Mark as Read, and Move to that folder automatically. What goes in there?

    1) Anyone who oversends me stuff. If I get more than 1 email a week (or sometimes less) I move it to the Offers folder.

    2) Anyone who sends me a newsletter where I can’t figure out who sent it to me or how I know them.

    I check this folder about once a year.

  • Jim says:

    I would guess that most Broadway attendees don’t wait for Broadway promotions, they look for them. They aren’t getting an email and saying, “Oh, look, there’s a show called PIPPIN opening.” They are probably thinking, “I know I must have a PIPPIN discount here somewhere . . . .”

    Most of my Broadway promotions are marked for Spam, but when I’m going to New York, not a single one misses my eye.

  • Elisa Christina Clayton says:

    This issue reminds me of Seth Godin’s blog “Five years from now…” where he warns “Your current profession will either be gone or totally different.”

    Also, the following topic is unrelated to this subject but is relevant to your past blog “Bringing back the concept of the concept album,” I am a Sting fan and received his newsletter today and it said:


    We are pleased to announce The Last Ship, an album of brand new material from Sting, will be released on September 24, 2013 (internationally on September 23, 2013).

    The album is inspired by Sting’s forthcoming play of the same name and explores the central themes of homecoming and self-discovery, drawing upon his memories of growing up in the shadow of the Swan Hunters Shipyard in Wallsend. His personal reminiscences illuminate universal truths – the complexity of relationships, the passage of time and the importance of family and community – to form an affecting, complex parable for our modern times.

    Guest artists on The Last Ship with roots in the North East of England include Brian Johnson (AC/DC), The Unthanks, The Wilson Brothers and Kathryn Tickell. The album is produced by Rob Mathes (Sting, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Lou Reed, Carly Simon) and engineered and mixed by Donal Hodgson.

    The play, which Sting has been working on for nearly three years, will debut on Broadway in 2014 and is a collaboration with Tony Award winners Joe Mantello (director; Wicked, Other Desert Cities), John Logan (writer; Red, Skyfall) and Brian Yorkey (writer; Next to Normal). The Last Ship tells the story of the demise of the shipbuilding industry in 1980s Newcastle which, for so long, shaped the city, its development, and its community.

  • David Youse says:

    Never had a gmail account and never plan on it. It’s very dangerous for 60% of the population to be on ONE server. Never a good thing. As far as the business that people cold possibly lose…….I require a more personal/private/different email account for my mailing lists. VERY FEW are Gmail. Run, don’t walk, be different, create your own! And be a personal emailer, not blind, especially if you’re asking for people to support you one way or the other.

  • Corine Cohen says:

    I use Gmail and I agree people look for deals. Personally maybe Broadway and Off Broadway Shows should do banner ads and promotions on Broadway Sites like mine that reach people that want to find promotions and tickets.

    Banners and online promotions might actually be more cost effective and stay up longer. If you advertise on you will be right in front of ticket buyers and you wont be spamming your audience. Win win. Thanks, Google!

  • Robert H-P says:

    I’m never very pleased when Google or Facebook or whomever decides for me what I should see and not see and when. Yes, they are private companies, but they control huge swaths of information, and a single algorithm change (often done to specifically target a certain kind of business or information, and often done as almost a personal vendetta by these huge companies) affects entire economies.
    I can decide, on my own, whether I want to open the Staples discount ads (or unsubscribe), thank you very much. I don’t need to go hunting for them. Considering how often Google mistakes even legitimate, long-received email for spam, and misses real spam, I have zero confidence that their Skynet-style mega sorting system will work properly, causing even more headaches.
    I’m with Ken on this one – there will be huge drop-offs in open rates, which means nothing to the self-sufficient Internet “Libertarian” who never opens promotional emails, but means a *huge* amount to the small businesses, museums, theaters, activist groups and more who now rely on them to get the word out (particularly in a world where we can fast forward through DVR’d commercials, AdBlock the web and filter the precise information we receive by what cable networks and websites we visit).
    Plus, in response to another post here, I actually *do* read my theater / concert promotions, and they actually *do* remind me “oh yeah, I wanted to see Pippin, and here’s a discount right at the time I’m free and have cash!”

  • Groucho says:

    How about refusing gmail as a client….meaning, on your signup form state “gmail addresses not accepted.”

    On face, it seems insane. But for years, snobby web designers would say “Does not work on IE xx” without care or concern for the end user. Here, if people really want your email marketing material, they will give you a working non-gmail address.


    • The last thing we need is for live theatre to be considered snobby one more day.
      If a company wouldn’t accept my desire to get on their email list because they have a beef with the email service, that company will never hear from me again.

  • Harmony says:

    I worry about how it will affect smaller non-profits that don’t have other outlets to advertise and that use email as a newsletter, not as a resource for deals.

  • Jim Brown says:

    You’re right, Ken. Google’s default Promotion folder is a signifcant change, especially if you believe the theories of Nudge authors Thaler and Sunstein regarding the power of inertia and default settings.
    One of these key principles involves appropriately setting defaults. According to Thaler, “In any choice situation, the choice architect has to decide what happens in a system if the user does nothing; that’s what we call a default.”

    Defaults have immense power in a world of busy people. Limits on time, information, energy, and ability will often mean that people end up with whatever default option is given to them, whether or not it is the best option.

    “Past research suggests that most of the time, people will select the default option, either because they think that somebody made it the default because they thought it was good for them, or because they are lazy, or just spaced out and forgot to fill out the form,” explains Thaler. “The problem is that the people who designed the default may not have selected the default because they thought it was good for somebody—they may not have put enough thought into it.”

    Good luck with this one.


  • Scott says:

    I’d guess that 100% of promoters dislike the new gmail sorting system and that 95% of consumers like it. It’s great for me – makes my work and personal productivity go way up which is worth more to me than email promotions. I want the default behavior to file them away for me to look at when I decide it is time. It’s equivalent to saying “would you rather have telemarketers call you until you ask them not to (and often longer than that) or only allow them to call you if you want them to”. That’s an easy one, right?

  • Appreciate the recommendation. Let me try it out.

  • whole of the UK but of course most of our work is in London .

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