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‘Kinky Boots’ Takes Steps to Freshen Up Its Image

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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