‘Kinky Boots’ Takes Steps to Freshen Up Its Image

Kinky Boots new campaign Broadway
Josh Lehrer

How do you make “kinky” a safe word?

That’s one of the questions producers of Tony-winning musical “Kinky Boots” will try to answer with a new ad campaign that launches tomorrow. Freshening up the image two years into the show’s run, the new look eschews plot specifics in favor of playing up the good vibes that audiences say they feel when they walk out of the show.

The shift, spearheaded by Broadway ad agency SpotCo, marks the sort of adjustment all Broadway producers must make when they have an enduring hit on their hands — the kind of long-term care and feeding of a brand that can seem a world away from the movie business and its focus on the single big push into opening weekend.

“In the life of any show, you talk to one audience for a while, and then another one for a while,” said Hal Luftig, who produces “Kinky Boots” with Daryl Roth. “Now we have a whole world of people out there who want to come to New York and see something fun.”

“Kinky Boots” has come a long way from when it first arrived on Broadway in 2013, when the musical by Harvey Fierstein and Cyndi Lauper seemed like yet another drag-queen musical, based on a movie no one had heard of and saddled with a funny name. “Kinky Boots” led the 2013 Tony nominations and walked away with six awards, including the trophy for top musical, and since then has spent most of its time on Broadway pulling in more than $1 million per week.

A national tour launched in September, a production in Seoul was a success and, later this year, the musical will kick off stagings in Toronto (in June) and on the West End (in August). The title’s worldwide gross is coming up on $200 million.

There are a number of reasons for a show to tinker with a marketing profile that already seems to be working. For one thing, a new look can help cut through the Broadway chatter of the seven new musicals coming online this spring to intensify the competition for theatergoers. (A recent six-week stretch saw the weekly gross of “Kinky Boots” slip below $1 million for the first time in more than a year.) A new campaign can also redirect the message to address the audiences from further afield who tend to fill Broadway seats in a long-term run, as opposed to the more homegrown audiences who are usually the first check out a new hit.

In general, two years after opening seems a good time to reassess and refurbish a campaign. Fellow hit musical “Matilda,” which opened one week after “Kinky Boots” in April 2013, recently launched a campaign centered around a new TV ad.

The initial “Kinky Boots” push focused on setting up the musical’s storyline, about a failing shoe factory that finds new life in embracing the niche market of making ladies’ boots for man-sized feet. The imagery featured the actors playing the factory workers, all in costume, contrasted with the show’s glam-drag Angels, led by Lola (the role for which Billy Porter won one of the show’s Tonys).

Now, with the basics of the plot laid out, producers felt they wanted to concentrate on what they believe is their show’s real selling point: its sense of uplift and fun.

To that end, they got the cast dolled up in fancy formalwear and shot a new round of photos and video with the whole ensemble together in a party-like setting (an example of which is pictured above). The images aim to look fun and lively — and, crucially, family-friendly, with the show’s child actors claiming a place in the spotlight, too.

kinky-boots-new-campaign-broadway

Although audience members who have seen the show would likely argue that there’s nothing kinky about “Kinky Boots” or its feel-good message, the word “kinky” nonetheless carries a hint of sexuality and depravity that can be a hump to get over for some potential ticket buyers.

“It feels fabulous and glittery,” said Roth of the spirit of the new campaign. “We want ‘kinky’ to become a fun word and not a dangerous word. These are life lessons wrapped around some glitter and glam.”

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  1. JohnB says:

    “Kinky Boots” is definitely a family show. There is no cursing and no sex. Sexual references, yes. I think the youngest would be 13, as a child any younger might not be able to follow the story. But kids are more worldly today and I think most teenagers and their parents should have no issues with Kinky Boots!

  2. Critique says:

    Not a show for kids? There are two kids in the show! If anything it will teach kids about acceptance of all kinds of people! As Lola says in the show, “Accept someone for who they are”. I love this show! It is one of the most delightful shows to come to Broadway in a long time! Everyone should see it!

  3. Brian Saint Louis says:

    Brady1987 – Are you familiar with the MPAA rating system? There is a rating of “PG13” – which allows the same themes, language, sexual situations, violence, etc. I understand those ratings apply to films, but this show is nothing compared to some PG13 films over the years and is totally acceptable for anyone in their teens. Side note – the 2006 film in which the musical is based has a PG13 rating and the core theme of the show is about self acceptance and the acceptance of others. It does not focus on sexuality. Lola never says she’s straight or gay and in fact, seems somewhat sexually ambiguous.

    You’re going to have the conversation about the differences one day (or at least you should), why not introduce your kids to these concepts in a positive, affirming show like Kinky Boots vs something like Rupaul’s Drag Race or The Crying Game which they could stumble across simply by flipping through the cable channels some evening?

    I would be more apprehensive taking my 70 year old mother to see this than my 12 year old son or daughter simply because attitudes about the themes and situations addressed in the show are different now than they were when our parents were younger.

  4. brady1987 says:

    ‘Kinky Boots’ is not a show for kids. broadway.com wrote this in their section about the show:

    “Is Kinky Boots Good for Kids?
    While Kinky Boots provides a fabulous night out for adults, it is not entirely suitable for young theatergoers. There is some talk about sex (“Sex Is in the Heel”), death, cross-dressing and other adult themes. We would recommend bringing a worldly teenager, but leave the kids at home.”

    The movie, which the musical is based upon, is not recommended for kids either according to Common Sense Media:

    “Parents need to know that a main character in this movie, Lola, is threatened with violence and discriminated against because she’s a transvestite and drag queen. Though this film stays light and quirky, it still raises very real questions about how far tolerance and acceptance goes, especially of boys who don’t act in a masculine way. Both Charlie and his fiancé Nicola cheat on each other — though neither has sex. Also, when Lola says she’s a transvestite and drag queen, some teens are bound to ask what the difference is.”

    They say its okay for people 14 and older.

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