Some would argue that advertising has always been essentially a three-ring circus. And now Cirque du Soleil, home to lavish spectacles that are today’s version of the traveling big top, is literally turning the ad business into a high-wire act, as it expands aggressively into marketing and branding partnerships.
The Montreal-based entertainment company is being enlisted by more and more major brands to create custom performances and other theatrical embellishments to grab consumers’ attention while forming emotional bonds.
Cirque showed off its marketing chops last month at the second annual Creativity + Commerce Conference (known as C2) in Montreal. Branded programs by partners Intel and Fast Company magazine were introduced at the event with light shows and various stage performances.
“With our background in entertainment, we are seeking to create artistic experiences—or content—that help brands appeal to their key audience,” said Daniel Lamarre, Cirque’s CEO.
To date, the company has collaborated primarily with tech brands. For example, this past September Cirque promoted Google’s Chrome browser by creating a game-like app, Movi.Kanti.Revo, in which the user makes his way through a surreal world, encountering Cirque characters along the way.
In 2010, Microsoft hired Cirque to launch the Kinect system for Xbox with a customized performance during the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles. There, Cirque created a jungle-like environment including a stage where gamers battled it out on an enormous screen. Future executions might include live and recorded branded events on various platforms including social media, according to Lamarre.
When Cirque’s content meets just the right marketer, magic can happen, according to marketing experts.
“Cirque du Soleil’s meaningful difference comes from giving people an authentic, amazing experience that transcends cultural boundaries,” said Nigel Hollis, chief global analyst at marketing research agency Millward Brown. “Brands like Google, Coca-Cola and Nike, which have strong identities that complement Cirque du Soleil’s strengths, could be great partners.”
On the flip side, working with a brand lacking in that certain wow factor could well undermine Cirque’s credibility and damage its brand, Hollis added.
“Mixing pure artistry with commercial needs requires a balance,” said Lamarre. For Cirque, it helps that large brands are intrigued by its story. “They know about our history and how we started as street performers,” said Lamarre, “and they want to hear about how we do what we do.”