Earlier this summer, strange billboards and bus-stop ads started popping up around Louisville, Kentucky. A woman, Jessica, was sending public messages—that seemed really personal—to a guy named Chris. Things like, "Chris, maybe we should try role playing" or "Chris, let's talk about your performance issues."
Photo courtesy Louisville Ballet
Theories were tossed around on a Reddit thread as people wondered, Who's Jessica? Did she purchase these billboards in spite? Was it a marketing ploy for a divorce lawyer? Were Chris and Jessica two local TV news reporters? Or was this simply all a joke?
Turns out, it was none of the above. The billboards are a campaign for Louisville Ballet, created in partnership with Mightily, a local creative firm. What's the connection? The company is currently promoting its 2018–19 season, which they've deemed the Season of Romance. It kicks off September 7 with a brand-new modern-day take on Romeo + Juliet. After running the mysterious billboards, the company changed them to reveal what Chris would need to sit down for: He could save up to 30 percent off ticket prices with the purchase of a subscription. (Jessica must really want to go to the ballet.)
While we do admit that it's a bit hokey, the ad campaign has been successful in more ways than one: "We didn't just want people to be aware of our new season, but also to be a part of and interact with it," says Louisville Ballet's director of marketing, Cherie Pérez. "It was entertaining to watch how the city became involved in the billboard hunt. We watched it evolve on social media, and then traditional media, we even heard the buzz in coffee shops!"
But the true test of a campaign's effectiveness is ticket sales. According to Pérez, Louisville Ballet's subscription sales have increased by nearly 20 percent compared to last year.
The original billboards (top) subtly hinted at things related to a night at the ballet, like "performance." The reveal message promised discounted tickets. Photos courtesy Louisville Ballet.
With the billboards, Louisville Ballet is focusing on something most dance companies continue to grapple with: how to attract the millennial market. "We are striving to break the perception that ballet is exclusive to a certain demographic," she says, adding that in addition to this campaign, the company has restructured its seating and pricing scales to make shows more accessible. "We want everyone to feel that they can come to the ballet and enjoy our art."
Oh, and if you're still scratching your head about Chris and Jessica, Pérez says they're not fictitious—they're a real married couple. "We won't reveal their identity yet," she says, hinting that fans will see more of them later this season.