Negative ads aren’t just for politicians, unfortunately.

Just about every politician swears they won’t do it.

And then, when their backs are against the primary walls and they get a little desperate, they pull out the negative ads, taking pot shots at their competitors.

Why do they do it?  Because, well, they work, as evidenced in this CNN article.

Broadway doesn’t talk about its competitors much.  You don’t see print ads with The King and I making cracks about An American in Paris or TV commercials with the kids in Matilda bullying their counterparts in School of Rock.

We keep it pretty clean.


I’ve been hearing rumors about a street team that operates on the TKTS island that has been trash talking other shows.  This “promotional team” has come up at advertising meetings and is known for pushing people away from shows that aren’t paying them by saying how “bad” they are, and trying to get those same people to buy tickets for the shows that are paying them.  Gross.  Apparently, like politicians feeling like they are running out of time, they’re so desperate that they’ll cut another show down in the hopes of getting a sale.

And while I don’t have any data, it probably works, just like it does for the politicians.

But it’s really bad form.

Negative advertising in any industry shows a serious lack of confidence and faith in what you’re doing.  You’ve run out of your own virtues to extol, so you get defensive and go after others.

It may get you some quick cash, but it won’t get you to your long term goals.

You know what my sales people do when a client asks them about another show?  We answer honestly . . . and positively.  We encourage them to get tickets for the other show . . . and instantly, we gain serious amounts of trust because the customer knows we’re not making any more on this deal, but are recommending the show regardless.

Boom.  Instant loyalty.  So guess what show they’ll want to see next?  (Cialdini talks about this in his “waiter study” in Influence . . . where waiters have increased their tips by suggesting items on the menu that are NOT the most expensive.)

Bad mouthing other shows is simply a sign of bad sales technique.  Your show deserves better than that.  And if it doesn’t, well then, get yourself another show.


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  • Jeremy says:

    It probably shouldn’t, but still does amaze me that people would do this just to make a few extra sales. I work in a box office that is right on 42nd street, so we receive a lot of walk-ups from people seeking other shows or just general information about Broadway shows. If our current production isn’t what they’re looking for, we’re always happy to point them in the right direction and offer friendly suggestions about our own theatre going experiences.

  • Frank says:

    Could you not argue that it goes both ways a bit here?

    I’m not one who would encourage speaking ill of another show, but by suggesting a show that is paying you over a show that is not can be seen as simply not biting the hand that feeds you, right? If they want to get paid, then they sell the shows that pay them. It’s good business for them, because they have nothing invested (or not much) in the various shows ultimate outcomes.

    While I promote the idea that Broadway needs to work more as a league of teams to raise everyone up together, it still doesn’t stop each show from trying to “out do” each other. I don’t see this as any different.

    People have been paying for good reviews, advertising, and the like forever, this doesn’t fall that far outside of this arena to me.

    • Yes, but there is a huge difference between promoting your own shows over another and and bad-mouthing the other shows. Most people who stand in those lines really don’t know much about most of the shows and the power of suggestion is very important. If they here someone who is supposedly ‘in the know’ talking about how terrible another show is, (whether it’s true or not) they are IMMEDIATELY going to second guess that choice when they get to the window. All I’m saying is, can’t we all just get along? And support Broadway as a hole and not become nasty bully a-holes about it? (I don’t mean you, I mean the people who are doing it at TKTS)

  • Carvanpool says:

    It is definitely a classless maneuver, so I’d expect it to be taken up by many more shows.

  • David Merrick Jr says:

    How about a column on how/why the godawful PERFECT CRIME is still running all these years. I know they really work the unsuspecting tourists at the TKTS booth, and sorry to say, I’ve heard nothing but bad things.

    So how can a show with such bad WOM run so long?

    • Joe says:

      I saw it years (25?) ago. It was fine. I enjoyed it for what it was. If you don’t like it, don’t see it. But why bad mouth it. If it keeps people working, and producers making money and it’s in a tiny theater, why not wish it the best?

      I’m not a huge fan of some of the humongous hits on Broadway:I’ve seen some of them, others just don’t interest me. But, they keep theaters open, they keep people working and I truly believe that if someone sees any show on (or off) Broadway, they are going to be more willing to see another show- and that show might just be yours.

  • Messr Phantom says:

    The rumor is true, though not the Perfect Crime reps. They do represent an Off Broadway show though. I know this from having worked at TKTS and being aware of their unfortunate antics. This is an industry about community, not tearing apart each other.

  • Dan Radakovich says:

    Some people here are forgetting that this is basically a blackmailing reversecon game, sd presented by the rumors. It is the old tradition of gangsterism “insurance” which al fans of mob shows are familiar with, But it is also not only that. Not all theatrical traditions are honorable, and this emits an odor redolent of the old “claques” that prima donnas and leading actors used to employ as mobile cheering fan bases/hecklers of other shows or replacements/understudies. Realistically the number of viewers swayed is likely to be next to non-existent, relying on the chance factors of someone thus employed being in hearing range of a dithering decider and being someone seeming reliable enough to have a valuable opinion. The more proper political analogy is the reason why elections now have secret ballots rather than standing openly on the ‘hustings’ and the laws regarding electioneering being prohibited within “x” yards of polling stations. I think a more likely choice of corruption would be hotel concierges for ‘show-swaying’as they are better-placed to find dithering showgoers. But maybe i am too influenced by The Grand Budapest Hotel movie I just watched :).

  • Joe says:

    mean people suck.

  • Steven Conners says:

    Ken–This idea, I think, comes from the old days of ‘Circus Promotion’: “the most mammoth show” – “more elephants than the others” – “our tent can hold 10, 000 people” – “wait for the big one”, etc. During my 50+ years with the Dr. Silkini show we had many competitors. I was raised with them advertising: “don’t see this show” – “it’s really bad” – “not real monsters” – “we’re more spooky than any other”, etc. The competition really didn’t effect us much. They didn’t have good shows. We just ignored their claims and moved on. You are absolutely correct. If you don’t have results with your show, don’t knock the ones that have success. Again, you’ve given us a very valid point. Keep up the good work. —sjc

  • David Arthur says:

    Hi Ken-
    I have not purchased a ticket at the TKTS booth for at least twenty years. Here’s the reason – it really ISN’T a bargain. Poor unsuspecting tourists and locals are paying high fees on top of that supposed 50% off ticket price. The seats are often located in New Jersey. More importantly, in addition, as I pass by the booth, it is so off putting to hear young TDF hacks steering potential customers away from certain shows.
    Thank you for shedding some light on appalling practice.

  • Martha says:

    A Universal Law – You will never have what you are jealous of.

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