Partnership with automaker boosts musical's profile

For a new Broadway production trying to carve out an identity, a link to a nationally recognizable brand can be a big leg up.

So it’s quite a coup that upcoming tuner “Motown” has ties to not just one brand but two — and the combination is helping drive the musical into national awareness long before most shows even begin advertising outside of the local area.

In a Chrysler ad that will soon hit the airwaves (and is posted now on YouTube), Berry Gordy, the founder of the Motown music label and the book writer of the tuner, takes a drive through Detroit in the automaker’s new Motown 300 model, pre-loaded with the familiar Motown tunes that play during the seg.

Gordy’s destination? The Main Stem’s Lunt-Fontanne Theater, where he pulls up under the musical’s marquee. Before the commerical cuts to the Chrysler tag, lingering onscreen text reads, ” ‘Motown: The Musical.’ On Broadway March 2013.”

For a Rialto production, that kind of national exposure is a big deal. Given the modest economic scale of most Main Stem shows, legit producers have far less ad money to spend than a film studio or, for that matter, a national auto brand. That’s a major reason Broadway advertising tends to start local, hawking titles initially to the tri-state New York/New Jersey/Connecticut-area auds who are usually the first to fill seats, before expanding outward as longevity helps a production find a foothold with tourists.

“The television for ‘Motown’ is a national buy, and that’s a really rare thing,” says Drew Hodges, topper of ad agency SpotCo (“Chicago,” “Once”), which is handling “Motown.” “This is a full media campaign with frequency and reach.”

It’s almost unheard of for a production to land such national attention before it attracts notice through the old-school channels of critical raves and awards-season love.

Oprah Winfrey’s involvement in 2005 title “The Color Purple” reps another rare example, when Winfrey devoted time on her syndie talker to the show and visited “Late Show With David Letterman” on the production’s opening night.

“Motown,” of course, already benefits from its eponymous topic — the story of the venerable Motor City music label, seen through Gordy’s eyes — and a song list drawn from some of the most widely recognizable pop music in the world. It was that connection that led to the involvement of Chrysler, which approached producer Kevin McCollum looking to go along for the ride.

For the automaker, “Motown” fits in with a marketing storyline the car company has been spinning in ads that depict hometown Detroit (and, by extension, Chrysler) emerging bloodied but unbowed from the throes of the recession to reclaim a position of industrial and cultural glory. With the tagline “Imported from Detroit,” it’s a narrative most notably played out in a 2011 Super Bowl ad starring Eminem.

“For us it’s an opportunity to write a new page for the ‘Imported from Detroit’ story,” says Olivier Francois, chief marketing officer of Chrysler. “It also gives us access to the Motown name, which is, I think, invaluable, along with Motown’s attitude and values.”

Chrysler hasn’t signed on as an investor in the show — “There’s no big check,” McCollum says — but that national TV showcase is already worth a chunk of change a Rialto show could never afford otherwise. The automaker is chipping in on Gotham outdoor advertising as well, with Chrysler featured alongside the show.

The boosted profile for “Motown” could come in handy in drumming up auds for the large-scale Broadway musical, which McCollum says will be capitalized at between $14 million and $17 million, with a cast of 36 and a 19-piece orchestra.

The spotlight Chrysler is helping to bring to “Motown” doesn’t guarantee sales, of course. But it’s fair to say that the branding puts the show far ahead of fellow spring outings, such as Brit hit “Matilda,” in terms of generating broad awareness.

Besides, for everyone involved, the team-up seemed to make sense. As Berry quips: “Chrysler’s Detroit, and I’m Detroit.”

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