When Jo Koy was starting out as a stand-up comic, he would spend hours making flyers at Kinko’s and putting them on car windshields in mall parking lots to hawk his latest gig.
“I used to get in trouble with the security guards,” Koy remembers. “I was the annoying guy who would do anything to promote himself.”
Three decades, three Netflix specials and hundreds of sold-out engagements later, Koy is continuing to hustle as he works to draw attention for “Easter Sunday,” Universal’s upcoming comedy based on his Filipino American family.
But this time he’s moving far beyond photocopying: At his shows, Koy has been sharing a trailer from “Easter Sunday” and urging audience members to buy tickets using an interactive QR code displayed on large-format screens that surround the stage. As an added incentive, Koy has offered fans who purchase tickets the chance to enter a lottery to attend the film’s world premiere.
Given that Koy performs to crowds of 15,000 people, the results have been encouraging, with as many as one-in-three people engaging with the QR code at some shows. And the chance to speak to such a captive audience led the film’s backers Universal and Amblin to offer tickets on Fandango six months before the film’s Aug. 5 debut. It’s the furthest out from a theatrical release the studio ever started selling tickets.
“It was a chance to fish where the fish are,” notes Justin Pertschuk, senior VP of digital marketing at Universal.
This kind of innovation is important because “Easter Sunday” isn’t part of a pre-established franchise and it isn’t based on a comic book, making it something of an anomaly at the summer box office. But Universal and Amblin felt that Koy had other qualities that will allow the film to compete.
“Jo has spent his career building an incredibly loyal audience and we realized we had a chance to mobilize them early to not only drive awareness, but also to actually sell tickets,” says Jon Anderson, senior VP of marketing at Amblin Partners. “Jo sells out arenas, so even though it’s not typical to focus on ticketing that many months out, we had this perfect opportunity to reach a quarter million people in our core target audience, so we decided to give it a try.”
And “Easter Sunday” benefited from something else. At a time when COVID has led restaurants to ditch menus in favor of QR codes, people have become more comfortable using the technology.
“I’ve been doing digital marketing for 20 years, and Lord knows we tried to get people to use QR codes, but everything changed with the pandemic,” says Pertschuk.
As for Koy, the comic recognizes that “Easter Sunday” is an opportunity to showcase his community on the big screen, and he’ll stop at nothing to make it a success.
“This is a huge studio shining a light on a culture you know about,” says Koy, “but don’t always see on screen. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry and it will be beautiful. And maybe you’ll realize we’re not all that different from you.”