The musical's success owes as much to its clever use of Twitter and Facebook as anything that happens on stage.
The news that The Book of Mormon set a record on Friday for the biggest single day in ticket sales in West End and Broadway history is probably less a testament to the show itself – insanely enjoyable though it is – than to its clever (and clearly very expensive) marketing, which has used traditional media (to get to that crucial audience who don’t do Twitter) and social media (for those already plugged into South Park) in tandem, to remarkable effect.
Viewed one way, Friday morning was not such a great day for Mormon: the reviews for the show were a pretty mixed bag, although it is perfectly possible that many people were waiting for Quentin Letts’s one-star damnation as the endorsement they required to get online and book immediately. It would be easy merely to dismiss the reviews as an irrelevance, but they were utilised as another consciousness-raising weapon in the Mormon armoury while the real work was being done by Twitter and Facebook missionaries who have been advocating on the show’s behalf for months.
It was these tweets – celebrity and otherwise – that graced the traditional adverts appearing in the press last Friday morning and evening, when a new tranche of tickets were released. (Although, as this interesting article about the show’s marketing suggests, pretending something is unobtainable when it isn’t can confuse would-be ticket buyers.) But by the time the reviews came out, Mormon was an unstoppable juggernaut, one that even the Mormon church is hitching a ride on by placing several adverts in the show programme, both in London and elsewhere.
For theatres using social media, it’s hard to be sure that their efforts are translating into direct ticket sales. After all, Spring Awakening ran a very prominent social-media campaign, but couldn’t translate it into box office success. Teenagers wanted to see it, but they couldn’t afford West End prices. On the other hand, it only takes Stephen Fry to endorse a fringe production with a tweet or Amanda Holden to tell her million-plus Twitter followers about taking her kids to The Snowman at the Peacock for the box office phones to start ringing.
For most theatres and companies, without the huge budgets and manpower that there is behind a show such as Mormon, steamroller campaigns are something they can only dream about. But while not every company can afford to place adverts on buses and in newspapers, or feature the show in articles and on TV, they can all build a community of interest around a show, however small, through genuine engagement and dialogue with potential audiences.
Of course, if that doesn’t work out, you can follow the example of Viva Forever!, whose latest stab at ensuring that it doesn’t soon become Viva Yesterday! involves drawing attention to its own negative reviews.