Bloodshed Becomes Branding for El Paso Opera

A gory creative assignment for a theatrical production unexpectedly turned into a branding campaign for the El Paso (Texas) Opera.

To promote its Labor Day weekend production of Donizetti’s tragic love story, Lucia di Lammemoor, the opera gave SWG&M of Austin, Texas, permission to be daring in its creative. Client marketing director Catalina Gonzalez said her organization “loved the artwork” that resulted.

The campaign began in July with two postcards showing a knife-wielding woman in a blood-stained dress. Copy accompanying the representation of the story’s murderess stated: “Some divorces are messier than others” and “If you’ve got the nerve, we’ve got the tickets.”

Many El Paso residents were horrified. “There’s a big difference between seeing a hip, scary poster up on a wall downtown and getting a postcard in the mail that you’re not expecting,” said SWG&M executive creative director Scott McAfee. “That’s both a strength of the campaign and part of the reaction.”

A blood-splotched billboard followed, as did tamer radio and television spots. By the time posters began to appear, however, the media attention and negative calls were too much for the opera, which told the shop to tone down the graphic elements. “We thought we needed to respond to what the community was thinking,” Gonzalez said.

Before the change, ticket sales were much lower than expected, she said, but business picked up after the revised campaign began. Still, the client received a number of positive calls and e-mails from residents who liked the bold ads. They said the work made them curious about the production.

Gonzalez said an unforeseen benefit resulted from the ordeal. “[The campaign] has become more of a branding one since a lot of people didn’t know we had an opera in El Paso,” she said. “Because of our awareness right now, we’re going to have a better reaction to our next opera.”