Red Carpet Rollouts: Theatrics are important but can’t make a weak product launch better

Who among us has never seen – even if only in news coverage – the annual parade of animals being led into a big tent where a circus will be held over the next few days?










The parade is cheesy, for sure. And the news coverage is predictable, too. But year after year, news stations broadcast elephants marching trunk-to-tail in front of city hall as a way of letting folks know that tickets are still available. Later, news crews will be on-hand to capture footage of the giggling children in their hospital beds during a “surprise” visit by the circus clowns and to record the inspections by PETA to ensure that the animals aren’t being mistreated.

It’s theatrics at its best – staged events that draw the attention of media and other influential people for the purpose of publicizing the larger money-making event. And the circus example is just one of many.

Consider the annual unveiling of the new car models, being lowered onto a stage amid flashing lights and loud music, or the red-carpet celebrity arrivals at the Oscars, an excitement-building event around a later event that will bring in billions in advertising. Professional sporting events – from the NFL drafts to the title boxing matches to the World Series – are filled with theatrics.

There are reasons that the theatrics around these events are so effective. First of all, they’re anything but spontaneous. The companies have invested in things like staging and lighting to enhance the effects. The venues have been carefully selected and the messages have been professionally scripted. Most importantly, the presentations are rehearsed – again and again and again.

Finally, it’s important to also note that there needs to be some substance behind the theatrics. The smart companies recognize that theatrics cannot mask an announcement or a launch that’s simply not worthy of such fanfare. The challenge that comes with using theatrics around a product launch or news event is recognizing that not every news announcement is worthy of such fanfare. In some cases, a simple press release, an executive press tour or even a short webcast may be a better way to share product updates or offer sneak peeks at what’s in the works.

Unfortunately, there are companies out there that haven’t yet figured this out. Some companies go so far as to plan theatrical events around big trade shows before they’ve figured out what they’ll announce or whether the products will even be ready for launch in time. And when it ends up being a big theatrical spectacle – with no real substance or news – the expression “it’s just theatrics” gets another negative ding. Companies that roll out the bling and glitz for every launch, even the incremental updates, will reduce the effectiveness of the attention-grabbing tactics.

As I often say, if you roll out the red carpet too often, eventually it starts to fade.

If you really want to see theatrics in action, pay attention to the upcoming Apple news event tomorrow. If ever there was a company that could write a book on how to stage a theatrical announcement, it’s Apple. Of course, the company only uses the “event” for big product rollouts and it has an established reputation for delivering products that shine.

Take your seats. The opening act – bloggers speculating wildly on the specifics of the event before it happens – should be getting underway in less the 24 hours.